Real Revision: Authors’ Strategies to Share with Student Writers by Kate Messner

Real Revision: Authors’ Strategies to Share with Student Writers by Kate Messner is a must-have book for any teacher of writing, regardless of grade level. I can not recommend this book enough!

First of all, Kate gets it.  She is a full-time author, full-time seventh grade teacher, and full-time mom.  She teaches and actually uses the strategies she shares.  And as a writer, she is a revision expert. She knows that revision is hard work and she understand the difficulty of giving revision enough time in age of timed tests and standardized writing. I am thrilled that she decided to write this book and share her wisdom with us!  (And the wisdom of many of her author friends).  Kate understands the current climate of testing, she gets middle school minds, and she knows how much pressure teachers feel in this day and age.  Yet she still manages to make the book accessible, practical, and conversational.  You can read Real Revision: Authors’ Strategies to Share with Student Writers straight through or a few pages at a time and you will learn something every time you sit down with it.  My copy is flagged and I know I will be pulling it out constantly this year.

I read a lot of professional books about reading, writing, and general literacy.  Kate’s Real Revision: Authors’ Strategies to Share with Student Writers by Kate Messner  is the first book in a long time to grab me and make me want to continue reading long after I should have put the book down.  She doesn’t just share her own classroom experiences, but also includes interviews and essays from various children’s and YA authors.  The authors share their own methods of “real” revision and ways teachers can apply those methods in their own classrooms.

And teachers will love, love, love the “try it” sheets that are included throughout the book and in the Appendix.  Many of the “try it” sheets are invitations for students to try a revision strategy shared by an author in the book. Because these are authors thats students are familiar with, I imagine they will love having the chance to “try” what their favorite author suggests.They can actually learn about the real revision work done for the books in our classroom libraries.   How awesome is that?!

Highly, highly recommended for teachers of grades 2-12.  There is something in here for teachers at all grade levels!  Pick up a copy before the school year starts!

Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray

I’m a sucker for modern day retellings of classic stories.  This, coupled with a reading of Hamlet in my English IV classes, attracted me to Falling for Hamlet, Michelle Ray’s debut novel.

Told from Ophelia’s point of view, Falling for Hamlet places Hamlet firmly in the modern era.  Hamlet is still Denmark’s prince, but he is followed by paparazzi, parties at frat houses, and carries a smart phone.  Ophelia lives in the very modern castle and has been dating Hamlet on and off for years.  Her father is the Danish king’s most trusted advisor and she lives a glamorous life.  However, life isn’t as glamorous as it may seem.  She and Hamlet can never have a real moment together, thanks to his overbearing mother and the insanity of the paparazzi.

Michelle Ray has managed to modernize the tale of Hamlet while also staying faithful to the original.  All of the characters are here and match very closely with Shakespeare’s original creations.  Each chapter of Falling for Hamlet  opens with Ophelia being interviewed by TV personality, Zara. (Zara is pretty much Opra).   Zara is attempting to delve into the scandal and gossip that has plagued the Danish royal family and it’s an interesting way to bring the reader into the story.  I feel like Shakespeare would approve of this writing device. Most of the chapters end with quotes of  the transcript from Ophelia’s interrogation  by Francisco and Bernardo, agents of the DDI (Danish Department of Investigation).  Again, I loved this craft tool.

I really enjoyed the way Ray was able to take Shakespeare’s classic story and make it modern without changing the story completely. I look forward to sharing this with my students,  as a way of demonstrating how the themes present in Shakespeare’s plays are relevant in today’s world.  All of the themes, characters, jokes, and innuendo are there.  It’s just modern.  And come on, how much would Shakespeare have loved the addition of tabloids and paparazzai?

I admit I do like the cover, despite some hate for it on other blogs.  It’s a tabloid-y cover and captures the story well.  Ophelia is strong and sane, but she is trying to care for Hamlet, care for her father, and be a normal high school senior.  Sometimes she just wants a minute alone with her boyfriend!  On the other hand, I look forward to seeing what they do with the paperback cover.  I do hope the cover doesn’t turn some people off, because this is a great book and a fantastic adaptation of Hamlet.  It’s not a light and fluffy chick lit book- it’s dark and brooding, moody and upsetting.  It’s Hamlet.  

 

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

Want to Go Private by Sarah Darer Littman

I have to warn you about Sarah Darer Littman’s newest novel. Want to Go Private? will make you squirm.  It will make you uncomfortable and angry.  You will want to put the book down and you will pray that Sarah Darer Littman is exaggerating and that events like those in the book don’t happen.  But then I read articles like this, this, and this.  All were published in the past month and only scratch the surface of the Google news results for online predators.

I hated  Want to Go Private?.  Despised it.  I felt gross just reading it.  Yet I could not put it down.  Darer Littman has written an important and powerful book about the dangers of online predators and it should be required reading for parents and teachers.  Adults want to believe that teens are “too smart” to fall for predators in this age of internet safety assemblies, guidance counselor pamphlets, and  PSAs.  But this book is proof positive that even the smartest and best kids can be “groomed” and it’s important that we, the gatekeepers, make them aware of the dangers on the internet.  I blog, so obviously I am a huge proponent of the internet.  (That sounds silly- is anyone really anti-internet?).  I am a huge proponent of my students using the internet.  But kids need to be smart and they need to be aware of the dangers that can be out there online.  Just like we teach kids about stranger danger at the park and in parking lots, we need to constantly ensure that teens and tweens are aware of online stranger danger.

Abby is a smart kid.  She’s a straight A student and a rule-follower.  She’s starting her freshman year of high school and she is nervous.  Her best friend, Faith, seems to be making new friends and getting involved in extracurricular activities.  Abby is sort of floating along, wishing that things weren’t changing.  She may have hated some parts of middle school, but she did like the innocence of it.  High school seems so much more real to her.  When Luke befriends her on ChezTeen.com, a new website for teens (as Abby says, everyone and their grandmother is on Facebook, so the teens are constantly migrating), she is flattered.  She makes sure that she keeps it anonymous and casual, being smart about not sharing any identifying information about herself.   Luke is understanding, listens to her rants and complaints, always takes her side.  He’s perfect.

Abby and Luke grow closer as the school year moves forward.  He’s always there for her and she looks forward to coming home from school and talking to him.  When he shares that he is a little older than her, she isn’t worried.  It’s flattering that someone in his twenties is interested in her.  Plus, he doesn’t actually know her.  Things get more complicated when her grades start slipping and Luke asks if he can send her a cell phone, so they can talk without anyone knowing.  And when he asks her to meet him at a particularly vulnerable time in her life, Abby’s life changes forever.

As you read, you follow Abby’s thought process and as an adult, the grooming she undergoes is blatantly obvious.  But Abby is a teen and her arguments are logical in her own head.  I could hear some of my own teens making the same justifications.  But when Sarah Darer Littman switches from Abby’s perspective to those of her friends and family, the book becomes even deeper.  Abby’s decisions affect her family, her friends, her classmates, her teachers, and her town.  Her own life will never be the same after the decisions she makes.

Abby is an irritating character because the reader wants to shake her and say “You are being preyed upon!”.  But at the same time, she’s a believable teen.  Her actions and decisions make sense to her and the reader is supposed to be upset by them.  You will be on the edge of your seat for the entire book, despite the eerie feeling that you know exactly what is going to happen.

 

Sarah Darer Littman’s Want to Go Private? is in important book.  It’s intense and gripping, and a cautionary tale that parents and teens alike should read.  Highly recommended.  This is a book that you will want to read and discuss with your kids.

 

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

I read Ann Brashare’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely.  I also enjoyed that movies that were made afterwards.  Last month, I was surprised to learn that Ann Brashares had written a new Sisterhood novel, but that this one was aimed at the adult market.  I picked up a copy and added it to my vacation pile, knowing there was no way I could miss out on the end of the series.

Sisterhood Everlasting: A Novel (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) takes place ten years after the last book in the series.  Lena, Tibby, Bee, and Carmen have grown apart as their lives begin to move down different paths.  I’ve been invested in the Septembers since the beginning, feeling like I was growing up alongside them.  I think Brashares is a brave woman: many of the women who love Lena, Tibby, Bee, and Carmen are in their late twenties now so it makes sense that they would continue to connect with them as they close in on thirty years old.  But at the same time, there is no way an author will make everyone happy.  I struggle to summarize the plot of  Sisterhood Everlasting because I don’t want to give anything away.  Just know that the girls are adults now, so they are dealing with adult problems.  Life isn’t simple and there are no easy answers.  People grow and change, but the girls are the same at the core.  They still need each other, whether they admit it or not.

The girls are growing up and have grown apart.  While they consider the rest of the group to be their best friends, they aren’t in touch as often and life keeps getting in the way of planned reunions, emails, and phone calls.  All of the girls are relatable and true to the personalities they have had all along.  The stakes are higher in some ways, because they are adults now.  But does that mean they don’t need each other anymore?  This is the question they all struggle with as they grow up and grow older.  Brashares explores this in a real and heart-wrenching way.

If you’re a fan of the Sisterhood book, read Sisterhood Everlasting.  You owe it to yourself and the characters to see them through to the end.  It’s well worth the ride, despite the tears along the way.  I am so happy that Brashares made the decision to revisit the Septembers as adults and didn’t succumb to the inevitable pressure of the perfect “happily ever after”.  If you haven’t read the series yet, don’t pick this one up!  For one, I don’t think people who missed out on the series will be able to follow the Septembers through their adult lives.  Too many nods to their past and important events mean newcomers may be lost.  Plus, reading this book first will destroy the rest of the series for you.  Just trust me on that one!  You won’t be able to get through the first few books, because of the tears that will be falling.

Highly recommended for fans of Brashares’ earlier books.

The Fox Inheritance by Mary Pearson

A few years ago I read and loved Mary Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox. I was overjoyed when I recently discovered that she had written a companion novel. I was fortunate to pick up a signed ARC of The Fox Inheritance (The Jenna Fox Chronicles) at BEA and I read through it during the 48-Hour Book Challenge. I was not disappointed.

Sequels don’t always hold up well, especially when the first book is really good. But The Fox Inheritance (The Jenna Fox Chronicles) works for a few reasons. The characters are new and not the same main characters as the first book. They are well-developed and I found myself rooting for them even more than I rooted for Jenna in the first book. Another thing that works well is that the setting is 250 years after the events in the first book. The world-building is superb and detailed.  For these reasons,  The Fox Inheritance works well as a stand-alone novel, too.

Thanks to advances in science and medicine, the disembodied minds of Kara and Locke (friends of Jenna who were also in the same car accident) have bene give new bodies.  But the world has changed drastically since their “death” and the man who has brought them to life has plans to use them as models for his new business venture.  Meanwhile, Locke and Kara are struggling.  Are they really human? And why did Jenna get to live her life while they were stuck floating in cyberspace?  When they find out that Jenna is still alive, Kara and Locke set off to find her and enter a world that has been divided by Civil War and is populated by droids and humans.

Highly recommended.  The Fox Inheritance is perfect for science fiction fans and mystery fans.  It is thought-provoking and I imagine that students will want to talk about the issues of humanity and human rights brought up by the plot.  Our world is rapidly changing and the rights of droids, the ability to “save” memories, and much more may be a possibility sooner rather than later.  Perfect for upper middle grade and high school readers.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This book is going to be huge.  Get your pre-orders in and block off some time on October 18th. This is a book you won’t be able to put down so you will have to read it straight through in one sitting.

The Scorpio Races is like nothing I have read before. The Scorpio Races is a stand-alone fantasy novel that Stiefvater says has been in her head for many years. The time that this story had to percolate in her imagination resulted in pure perfection. The prose is magical and haunting. The characters are true and life-like. The setting will surround you, with fog settling around you and drops of saltwater sticking to your skin.

Kate “Puck” Connolly lost her parents to the capaill uisce , the water horses, many years ago. She and her two brothers have been struggling to survive ever since.  They barely make ends meet on the tiny island they call home.  When her oldest brother announces that he is leaving to go to the mainland, Puck is stunned and heartbroken.  In a crazy bid to keep him home longer, she enters the Scorpio Races.  Every November, the capaill uisce wash upon shores of the island. The water horses are deadly, but the lure to tame one long enough to ride in the Scorpio Races is hard to resist for the island residents.  The promise of prize money has tempted many young men, including her brother’s friends. But  Kate swore to have nothing to do with the capaill uisce after her parents’ death.  Instead, she  enters the race as the first female rider in the race’s history, but plans to ride her own horse, Dove.

And then there is Sean.  Strong, silent, and the island’s most famous resident.  He is the returning champion of the Scorpio Races and he and his water horse, Corr, are known far and wide.  But Sean is silently struggling.  He wants to free himself from his overbearing employer but won’t leave his job without Corr, who belongs to the stable.  Winning this year’s Scorpio Races will win them both their freedom.

Sean and Puck meet while training for the races.  But don’t think this is just a love story.  It’s so much more than that.  The center of the story is that both Puck and Sean’s futures hinge on how well they do in the race.  But only one can win.  And while there is tension between the two, Stiefvater’s tale is about the water horses.  I was not familiar with the mythology of water horses before picking up this ARC and that made the story all the more delicious.  I had no idea what was coming.  I fell in love with the gorgeous and deadly water horses, and I’ve been reading everything I can about them ever since I finished the book.  Stiefvater’s prose is haunting and I could hear the hooves pounding on the beach while the waves crashed in the background.  The world-building is spot-on and the atmosphere will haunt you.

This is a book that will fly off the shelves in October.  I have already passed it on to my students, and they took it home this summer to pass around amongst themselves.  I know they are going to love it.  I certainly do!

(I plan to look for some water horses when I am in Ireland later this summer.  ;)  )

*ARC courtesy of the publisher at BEA

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

It’s no secret that dystopian books are some of my favorite.  I’m thrilled that they seem to be taking over the market right now and it’s hard for me to pass up the chance to read the latest and greatest in the genre.  I saw Wither being buzzed about in the blogosphere and added it to my list of must-reads when I got a chance to glance at the cover.  How gorgeous is that?  And luckily, the story did not disappoint!

Set in the future, in a world where every human being is living a countdown; a countdown to death.  Males only live to 25 and women to age 20.  Rhine has been captured off the street, kidnapped, to be used as a bride for a wealthy young man.  At almost sixteen, she had planned to spend her remaining few years living with her twin brother and caring for him.  Instead, after being kidnapped, she is forced to marry a sad young man and live with his other two wives.  Rhine has been chosen to replace Linden’s favored first wife, recently deceased. Suddenly she is residing in a world of wealth and privilege, instead of the dangerous basement apartment she shared with her brother.  She has favored status among the wives and Linden doesn’t even seem that bad.

But Rhine longs to be free.  She plays the game, appeasing Linden and her father-in-law, appearing to be the ideal wife.  In reality, she is planning her escape.  She is determined not to live out her last days in a prison, even if it takes on the appearance of a palace.  She needs to return to her brother, and that means manipulating those around her.  But can she move through her life without having any feelings for or towards those around her?  Will she be able to break free and leave behind those who have grown to care for her, like Gabriel, her friend (and servant)?

I read mixed reviews of Wither before I ordered myself a copy.  The cover art is gorgeous and the premise sounded intriguing.  But a few bloggers I trust had so-so reactions.  Hence, I began the book a little apprehensive.  Well let me tell you- I was sucked in within the first few pages!    Some reviewers complain that the world-building is irritating in the sense that it seems incomplete.  I have to admit I didn’t notice that.  The plot and the characters drew me in so much that I didn’t even think about the world outside of Rhine’s home.  That’s a credit to DeStefano’s incredible prose.  Rhine’s emotions leap off the page, and the characterization is perfect.  There are no flat or static characters here- every single character seems to jump off the page, standing in front of you.  Everyone is real.  I can’t think of a better way to put it.  Even the characters I hated were human and sympathetic.  I felt for all of them, which was no easy feat in a book like this.  Kudos to Lauren DeStefano.  I can’t wait to read the next book in the series!

*purchased by me

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