#NCTE11 Day 2 Reflection

Day 2 of #ncte11 started bright and early, as I had made plans to have breakfast with Stacey from TwoWritingTeachers.  I was a little early for our meeting in the lobby and ended up running into Meeno, also meeting a friend for breakfast.  It was a perfect run-in because I was able to congratulate Meeno on her new status as a National Board Certified teacher!

Stacey and I grabbed breakfast in the hotel and we spent about an hour chatting about literacy, writing, and our families.  It was great to finally meet in-person!

After breakfast I hit the exhibit halls again, where I spent time talking with Ned Vizzini, Megan Mccafferty (who recognized me!), Neal Shusterman, and a variety of other authors.  I also chatted with Sarah, also known as VocabGal, at the Sadlier Oxford booth. She was a doll and chatting with her afforded me the opportunity to take a look at the new Vocabulary Workshop books, which we use in our district.  I was able to get some of our questions answered and look at a physical copy of the book.  I immediately emailed some of my colleagues to share my thoughts and we are looking forward to the new version, which we will be ordering for next year.

Saturday afternoon was spent in the exhibit hall and in downtown Chicago, where Chris and I visited the bean, a local cupcake shop, and a Millennium Park.  We skipped the aquarium, but we still had a great time.

Sunday night was fantastic.  I was invited to dinner with Little, Brown and I assumed it would be a huge crowd.  When I arrived a few minutes early, I ran into a lovely woman and her daughter who were also there for dinner.  Sharon introduced herself and took me under her wing, which I am extremely grateful for.  We spent some time chatting about our favorite books and the books my students are enjoying right now.  Sharon shared a few title recommendations for my students, which I have already added to my library.  We watched the ice skaters in Millennium Park until it was time for dinner.  When I walked into the small room at the restaurant I was stunned to see only three tables set up for dinner.  This was a small, intimate meal with some of my favorite authors!  Little, Brown had brought Sara Zarr, A.S. King, and Matthew Quick and they would be reading from their new books and rotating through the three tables.

What an amazing dinner!  It was so nice to talk with all three authors and I was able to bring back signed copies of all three books.  (I’ve already read and loved King’s Everybody Sees the Ants and Quick’s Boy21- look for reviews soon).  It was one of the best meals of my life.  And to make the night even better, I walked back to the hotel with Donalyn Miller, the amazing Book Whisperer.  Poor Donalyn walked eight blocks past her hotel because we were so deep in conversation about independent reading, the Common Core Standards, and our mutual love of helping kids learn to love reading.  Donalyn was recently named TCELA’s Teacher of the Year and it could not go to a more deserving teacher.  She is a force to be reckoned with and I am  lucky to have the opportunity to present with her and share teaching strategies and ideas.  It was a fantastic end to a great night, and an even better way to end the conference.  Monday would be spent at Midway Airport as I waited for my delayed plane to Newark, but I didn’t care.  I had books, friends, and lots to reflect on.

This past weekend I got a call for proposals in the mail for #NCTE12.  I’m already brainstorming ideas!  See you in a year, NCTE!

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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