No post tonight…..after almost 10 months, Lost is back!  Any other huge Lost fans out there? 

A Waste of Time?

I found myself nodding vigorously as I read The Book Whisperer’s latest post this evening.  It feels like I could have written the post myself.  Reading is viewed as a “waste of time” or a free period in too many classrooms.  Very few adults realize that this attitude is what leads students to view reading as a waste of time or something that is only done to please a teacher.

In two weeks, I will be leaving my class with a substitute for four days while I go to Mexico on a fellowship.  This will be the first time I have ever left a class for more than a day.  As I am writing the lesson plans I will leave behind I realized that my workshops are very different than the rote and memorization classes that many other teachers/subs are used to seeing.  I think I will have to leave very detailed notes explaining our daily reading time.  My students know that independent reading time is not the time to talk, work on homework, or do anything else.  But of course, I am sure they will push the limits (as any 6th grader would!) when they have a substitute teacher for the week and their regular teacher is in another country!  The note will explain that the students should read every single day.  I wish I could request that the sub also reads, to continue the modeling I do on most days, but I fear that the sub will be hesitant to do this.

Why would a sub be hesitant to sit and read for 25 minutes?  It’s not that I believe the sub would not want to read- in fact, it’s quite the opposite.  I think any substitute teacher would be afraid to do so because what if another teacher or administrator walked in and saw them just reading?  That sub would look like they were ignoring the students and not doing their job.  That is awful!  Reading should never be looked down upon as just a waste of time!  And what would that tell my students?  That reading is not a real, academic venture.  That it is something used to quiet them down and pass the time.   Not in my classroom!

In our classroom, my students and I love to read.  They beg to read.  They groan when I tell them that we need to move on and they have to put their books away.  They beg to read more of our current read-aloud, promising to make up the classwork at home.  They run to the library daily, trying to get new books or sequels.  They talk about books and make recommendations to each other.  They loan books to their classmates.  They write their letter-essays enthusiastically and want them back ASAP so that they can write back to me.  I love it!  Every classroom should be as enthusiastic about reading as mine.   (Not bragging there, just stating that all classrooms should make reading a vital and integral part of their day).

When did reading become a waste of time?  In my opinion, it happened when NCLB made testing more important than learning.  But then again, looking back on my own education, we were rarely given the time to just read.  For some reason, reading isn’t viewed as learning.  Yet I teach mini-lesson after mini-lesson that focuses on the type of thinking we do while reading.  I focus my read-alouds on thinking through my own  thinking, out loud.  I know many other teachers who do the same thing.  Yet we get strange looks and whispers because instead of spending those 20 minutes listening to a teacher lecture, my students are in the reading zone.  They are each in their own space, in their own head, living the lives of their characters.  How is this not learning?!!


Independent Bookstores

When I was growing up there were two locally-owned, independent bookstores in the immediate area.  About 10 years ago both closed and we gained a few new Barnes and Noble stores and  a Borders.  Today, there are no independent book stores in my area.  I hate this!  Instead, I am forced to buy from big-box stores when I need a book quickly.  It is also hard to form a relationship with a bookseller at a big bookstore, in my experience.  I read around the blogosphere about bloggers who form great relationships with their local booksellers and I wish I could do that!

Am I the only one who is seriously lacking in small, hometown bookstore department over here?  If you don’t have an independent bookseller in your area, what do you do?  Do you shop online?  At Barnes and Noble?  I am really interested in how others deal with this.

Twisting Arms

A few months ago I purchased a professional book that I was hoping would help me with my persuasive writing unit in writing workshop. When it arrived over the summer, I put it on my shelf and figured I would glance through it when I got to the unit. Normally, I end up with a million professional books that I use 1-2 pages from and then never look at again. It is safe to say I wasn’t expecting a lot from Twisting Arms: Teaching Students How to Write to Persuade.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Over the last few weeks, I have turned to Twisting Arms: Teaching Students How to Write to Persuade over and over again.  For anyone who is working on persuasive writing, this book is perfect!  It is filled to the brim with activities that will help you plan a great unit for any grade level.  This is one of the few professional books in my library that I have used numerous lesson ideas from.  I can’t recommend it enough!

Kidlitosphere Round-up

I’m about to run out to a birthday party, but here are a few posts that I am loving today!

  • Over at Wizards Wireless you can read a great review of Gary D. Schmidt’s new novel, Trouble. Gary wrote one of my favorite novels last year- the incomparable The Wednesday Wars. I am scouring the kidlitosphere for an ARC of Trouble. In the meantime, Susan’s review will have to hold me over.
  • Stacey and Ruth of Two Writing Teachers have a new look for their blog.  The makeover is wonderful and they really run a phenomenal blog.
  • Last, but not least, The Class of 2k8 is running a contest where entrants can win a 3-pack of books.  The contest is an internet scavenger hunt and I can’t wait to participate.  The books that you can win also sound great!  Plus, The Class of 2k8 website is a great way to hear about new books from first-time authors this year.

Hopefully, these will tide you over for a bit while I enjoy a night out.  🙂

Poetry Friday

I’ve been having trouble falling asleep lately, so this poem seemed especially apropos this week!

Whatif by Shel Silverstein
Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow talle?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

Life As We Knew It

I started hearing rumblings about Susan Beth Pfeffer’s The Dead & Gone a few weeks ago. When I read the premise of the novel I realized it was a companion to Life As We Knew It and soon ordered a copy from Scholastic. As a fan of science-fiction, I thought it sounded like a novel I would enjoy.

I began reading Life As We Knew It 3-4 days ago. Though it is not a long book, I could not rush through it. The story arc forced me to put the book down hours before I went to bed, for fear that I would have nightmares. The story is haunting and frighteningly realistic. Worst of all, it seems entirely possible. There were times I just could not bear to read any more.

Miranda is your average high school sophomore, with average teenage problems- her grades, friend problems, and anger at her divorced parents for favoring her brothers. She hardly thinks that the asteroid predicted to hit the moon is worth a mention in her journal, but everyone else disagrees. Her teachers are treating this as a historic event, and assigning homework of historic proportions to help their students appreciate it. The story, told through Miranda’s journal entries, captures life as she knows it. She barely mentions the asteroid, unless it is to complain about how it seems to be taking over people’s lives and inconveniencing hers. However, the asteroid becomes extremely important when it does crash into the moon, knocking it out of orbit.

It turns out that the scientists miscalculated the impact and the entire world is thrown into chaos. Miranda (and the rest of the world) never considered how much of our world is controlled by the moon’s gravitational pull. The tides, earthquakes, and even volcanoes are affected by the moon’s new orbit. Tsunamis destroy the coasts, volcanoes are erupting, disease and rioting begin to spread. Life as Miranda knew it is over. Suddenly, just surviving is a daily struggle. No electricity, a major food shortage, and rampant disease are just a few of the problems that Miranda records in her journal. The story is fascinating and completely pulls the reader in, keeping their heart racing throughout the novel.

I am still getting goosebumps, even after finishing Pfeffer’s book. It is, without a doubt, one of the most frightening books I have ever read. It all seems so real and all too possible. I can’t wait to read the companion novel, the dead and the gone.

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Today, after cleaning my house, I curled up on the couch with my coveted ARC of Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen. Let’s just say- it’s a good thing I put dinner in the crockpot before I started, because once I began reading I was completely hooked. Ruby is my favorite Dessen character and this is perhaps her best work yet. I can not wait to pass it on to her fans in my class.

Ruby’s life has never been easy. Since her parents divorced when she was five, her mother’s life has slowly spiraled out of control. The only consistent part of Ruby’s life was her big sister, and protector, Cora. But when Cora turned 18, she left for college and never came back. “It’s just you and me, baby,” Ruby’s mom says. Day by day, Ruby becomes the adult in their relationship, making sure her mom has a job, a clean house, and her bills paid. But her mother uproots them constantly, moving to new houses and new schools, to outrun the creditors and bad landlords of their past. As abnormal as life is, Ruby settles in to the routine of it all. That is until one day, her mother is gone. At first, Ruby assumes she will be back when the money runs out or she wears out her welcome wherever she is. As the days and then weeks go by, Ruby realizes she is completely and totally on her own. She develops a plan to fly under the radar and make it to her 18th birthday, when she will legally be capable of caring for herself. Everything is going according to plan, until she is discovered by her landlords.

Before she realizes what is happening, she has been plucked out of her home, her school, and her comfort zone. Her sister has shown up for the first time in years, with a husband in tow, to claim Ruby and take her home. Suddenly, Ruby is living in a mansion, in a gated community, and attending Perkins Day. She has transferred from one of the largest and most overcrowded schools in the county to a prestigious prep school. A prep school to which her new brother-in-law has donated an entire athletic complex. A prep school where almost everyone comes from money and is money.

Life couldn’t be more different or uncomfortable for Ruby or her new “family”. Suddenly, she and Cora are forced to face their own past. And when Ruby meets Nate, her new neighbor, she must confront her own fears and insecurities. Which is more important- caring for yourself or for someone else?  What is the definition of family?  What is friendship?  Questions that once seemed so easy to answer are now seemingly impossible.

Sarah Dessen has done it again. Lock and Key is at once heartwarming and heartbreaking. The characters of Nate and Ruby are wonderfully drawn. Harriet is the stressed out, caffeine-addicted, independent woman we all know and love. Trust me, she’s somewhere in your life! The relationships between Ruby and Cora, Cora and Jamie, and Ruby and Jamie are realistic and complicated. The ending does not leave you wanting more- all the loose ends are tied up while still leaving the reader hopeful. And the symbolism of the lock and key? Absolute magic. (Viking is missing out if they don’t create some type of marketing based on the KeyChains! I am dying for one!)

Lock and Key will be released April 22, 2008.

Kidlitosphere Happenings

A few things are going on in the kidlitosphere today!

  • Check out this month’s Carnival of Children’s Literature. Hosted by Wizards Wireless, the theme is “Book Awards”. I’ve already spent some time perusing the awesome posts, and will be doing some more reading later. Check it out!

And now it is pack to reading my ARC of Sarah Dessen’s Lock and Key. Oh, and I should probably write my lesson plans for the week. Just as soon as I finish my book….

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson was my #1 “must get ARC” at ALA Midwinter ’08.

Wow. Just wow. I read this in one sitting, unable to put it down. I’m not even sure how to review it, because I don’t want to give anything away. Jenna Fox has been in an accident. She spent the last year in a coma and doesn’t remember anything from her old life. She has to relearn how to walk, how to talk, and how to do something as simple as smile. She doesn’t even know who she is. However, she does remember historical facts and can recite Walden from memory. While in a coma, she was moved from Boston to California. Her family’s new home is sterile and void of any of Jenna’s old belongings. There is nothing to trigger her memories. She has no friends and no family other than her mother, father, and a grandmother who seems to despise her. Something isn’t right and she can’t even begin to figure out what that something is.As she struggles to rediscover who she is, her parents refuse to answer any of her questions. Their cover story begins to unravel and nothing is as it seems. At the risk of spoiling what is an amazing story, I’ll stop there. But you must pick up a copy of this book. If you haven’t preordered this yet…..well, get on that!

An amazing science-fiction story, I would classify Pearson’s novel as dystopian. It’s a frightening look at where our society is headed and what might happen in our future. It raises questions of medical ethics, bioethics, humanity, and how far we are willing to go to save someone we love. The plot doesn’t seem outlandish or out of the realm of possibility. In fact, it seems frighteningly possible.

Despite being a science-fiction novel (a genre better known for being full of clunky science/technology jargon), Pearson writes captivating, lyrical prose. Scattered throughout the book are poems, written from Jenna’s point of view and seemingly in her own mind. Each one is beautiful and could stand on it’s own, outside the book.

Each of the characters are captured perfectly. Jenna struggles with her own identity while trying to figure out who her parents really are and what her relationship was and will be with them.

This was a perfect book for me to read right now. It fits in perfectly with my unit on ” The Giver” and I can’t wait to pass this on to a few of my students. The questions it brings up will be wonderful for letter-essay reader’s response and for comparison to Lowry’s novel. Pearson has really outdone herself and this should be a runaway success.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox will be released April 29, 2008. Pre-order your copy now!

*A note on the cover- how gorgeous is it?? One of my favorites for 2008 so far!

** Also, I was thrilled that Mary Pearson incorporated an eco-artist into the story. Eco-art is something my class will be working on later this year and it is rarely mentioned in popular literature! Kudos to Mary Pearson for that!