Hot Books in February

As I am frantically trying to pack and prepare for my fellowship (I leave for Mexico on Saturday morning!), I realized I better get my Hot Books list posted before I leave. Without further ado, here are the most popular books in my classroom over the last month.

Avalon High: Coronation Volume 1: The Merlin Prophecy by Meg Cabot: This graphic novel has been a huge hit. Interestingly, the majority of readers are boys. The book has been passed from one boy to the next since it arrived from Scholastic a few weeks ago, and the buzz is slowly building.

Gathering Blue and Messenger by Lois Lowry: We recently finished our science-fiction unit of study. As a class, we studied Lois Lowry’s The Giver and my students loved it. They were very excited to learn that Lowry had written more books in the “trilogy” (I’m never sure what to call it….It’s not technically a trilogy if all 3 books can stand alone!) and that the books included answers. A few have finished “Gathering Blue” already and are moving on to “Messenger”. Every day someone comes up to my desk to share their excitement. “We finally know what happened to Jonas and Gabe!”. Kids like answers- they hate books that leave them hanging. At least my kids do! They are very happy to find out the answers and I am thrilled to see them reading more and more.

Lush by Natasha Friend: Realistic fiction is the most popular genre in my library and my students love to read books about other kids who struggle with realistic problems. “Lush” has been making the rounds through my girls and they are all raving about it. Also popular, Natasha Friend’s Perfect: A Novel and Bounce.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer:  Since my booktalk, this has not been on my shelf at all.  My students, especially my reluctant readers, are loving this book.  At least once per day a student comes up to me in the hall saying, “It can’t get any worse.  Can it?!”  The students who have finished the book definitely have a new appreciation for running water, heat, and air conditioning!

So, what books are popular in your classroom or library right now?


When Lightning Strikes (1-800-Where-R-You) by Meg Cabot

Before this weekend, I had never read a Meg Cabot book. Sure, I have seen “The Princess Diaries” movie(s). I had heard Meg’s name bandied about for the last few years. For some reason, I had never taken the time to read one of her books. However, during my last trip to the bookstore I stumbled on her 1-800-Where-R-You series, which really caught my interest. I have always been fascinated by missing persons cases (the forums over at Websleuths are some of my favorite reading), and it seemed like 1-800-Where-R-You would be right up my alley.

When Lightning Strikes (1-800-Where-R-You) is the story of  Jess Mastriani, a misunderstood teen who has “anger issues”, according to her guidance counselor.  When Jess ends up walking home from her daily gig in detention on afternoon, she is struck by lightning.  She seems fine and feels fine, and assures her best friend, Ruth, that all is well.  However, her life is changed forever when she wakes up the next morning.  As she gets out of bed, she realizes that she knows where Olivia and Sean are.  Granted, she has no idea who Olivia and Sean are so she ignores her dream.

Then, as Jess pours milk into her cereal she stares into the faces of Sean and Olivia.  On her milk carton.  Sean and Olivia are missing children and Jess somehow knows where they are.  When she lets the authorities know (through the toll-free hotline 1-800-Where-R-You), she learns that not everyone who is missing wants to be found.  And that you can’t stay anonymous when you are the only person with the answers everyone wants.

The remainder of the book follows Jess as she struggles to come to grips with her new ability.  When the federal government steps in she is backed into a corner- does she protect her family, those who are missing, or her country?  Plus, how can she do all this and still get the local bad boy to see her as girlfriend material?

I enjoyed this book and plan to read the rest of the series.  My only disasppointment is that  I am hesitant to put  it into my classroom library.  Jess is a typical high schooler, so her thoughts are littered with four-letter words. This fits her voice and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  However, that makes me hesitant to put it into a 6th grade classroom library.


We had a class trip today.  I feel like I will never get up from this chair.

 I’m Tired

I’m tired of being misunderstood,

nerves are shot,

weak – like old wood.

I’m tired of being ill,

no energy, can’t think,

losing my skills.
(read the rest here)

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

I read Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl in one sitting. Zarr’s realistic look at high school and small-town politics hit home for me and I was so happy to see her win a National Book Award this past year. When I saw the cover for her newest novel, Sweethearts, besides having a sudden craving for sugar cookies, I immediately knew I had to read it.

I finished Sweethearts this evening and Sara Zarr has done it again!  I could go on and on about how awesome it is, but you need to go buy this book.

After years of hardship, Jenna Vaughn is finally the person she always wanted to be.  She has left behind Jennifer Harris- the fat, lisping, poor, crybaby her elementary school classmates cruelly ridiculed.  Now seventeen, she is thin and pretty.  She is popular at school and is dating the boy everyone else wishes they were dating.  Her mother has remarried and she has a loving stepfather.  She should be the happiest girl in the world.

She should be.

If only she could forget.

Jenna hates her birthday.  It only serves as a reminder of what happened on that awful day when she turned nine.  Back when life was lonely.  Back when she was still Jennifer Harris.  Then, her best friend was Cameron Quick.  Both outcasts, they clung to each other like lifeboats in a raging storm.  All of that changed on the day Jennifer turned nine.  The day Cameron’s father…….

Soon after, Cameron doesn’t come to school.  He isn’t in school the next day, either.  It is then that Jennifer finds out he is gone.  He is dead.  Jennifer only has herself.

Now, at seventeen, Jennifer has become Jenna.  She has buried Jennifer, Cameron, and their memories together.  The hole in heart, left when her soul mate and best friend disappeared from her life, still tries to drown her, sometimes.  But she is Jenna Vaughn now.  Happy, funny, grounded Jenna Vaughn.  Until the day that Cameron Quick comes back.   The day her “perfect” world is turned on its side.

I loved this book.  The characters are realistic and multi-dimensional, as are their relationships.  Jenna is a perceptive observer of both her peers and teenage life in general.  For the majority of the book you don’t know what exactly happened on that fateful afternoon when Jenna turned nine, and that kept me turning the pages.  Sara Zarr weaves a gorgeous story!

I already have 8-9 girls begging me to read this next.  I’m going to have to pull a name out of a hat to decide who gets it next.  They are begging just from my description, after seeing me reading during our reading time today.  How great is that???

Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt

A few days ago, Susan over at Wizards Wireless was kind enough to loan me her ARC of Gary D. Schmidt’s newest novel, Trouble. Schmidt’s Newbery Honor-winning The Wednesday Wars was one of my favorite novels of 2007 so I was looking forward to this one!

I was very excited when I received it and began reading immediately.Trouble is very different from The Wednesday Wars. Where “Wednesday Wars” was funny, poignant, and sometimes even gut-busting, “Trouble” is poignant, full of sorrow and pain, and haunting at times.

Throughout his life, Henry Smith’s father told him that if you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you.  This mantra guides Henry’s life – along with his mother, father, sister Louisa, and older brother Franklin.  However, you can’t avoid Trouble forever, and one night it comes crashing down into Henry’s world in the form of Cambodian immigrant, Chay Chouan. When Chouan’s truck strikes Franklin one night, the resulting racial tensions tear apart quaint Blythebury-by-the-Sea and Henry’s family.

Henry is caught between anger and grief.  Is his brother the All-American hero that the town views him as?  Or is he flawed, maybe even more flawed than most human beings?  How did Trouble find the Smith’s?  Unsure of what to do, he sets out to do the only thing he can- climb Mt.  Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine, which he and Franklin were going to climb together.  Henry, Black Dog (whom he rescued from drowning), and his friend Sanborn set out for Mt. Katahdin without telling their parents.  The journey teaches them more than they ever could have imagined and Henry slowly begins to understand himself, his family, his ancestry, his town, and the world around him.

I loved this book.  “Trouble” had tears in my eyes at some points and made me angry at other points.  Chay Chouan’s family history is heart-wrenching and heartbreaking.  Henry struggles with the possibility that his revered older brother may not deserve the adoration he always so readily accepted (and that Henry so readily offered).  It’s a magnificent picture of one boy’s coming-of-age in a world plagued by Trouble.

Even though I loved “Troub;e”, I don’t think this is a novel many of my students will pick up.  While “The Wednesday Wars” had a voice that attracted 12-13 year olds, I don’t think Henry’s voice will resonate with my students.  I would recommend this to an older audience.  The story is beautiful and I couldn’t put the book down! I wouldn’t be surprised to see this novel on most shortlists for the Newbery in 2009.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Do you use Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak in the classroom? If so, a teacher in Michigan needs your help! According to Halse Anderson, “This teacher could use some professional support. If you teach SPEAK, can you please leave a note in the comments section for her? Tell her why you use the book. Tell her about your classroom experiences and your professional opinion about the place of the book in the curriculum. Or just give her a pat on the back. If you are a teen, tell her what the book meant to you. “

Head on over to Laurie Halse Anderson’s blog to share your stories and inspiration with this teacher. Speak is an incredibly powerful book and deserves its place in our literary canon. Don’t let it be censored!

Moleskine Notebooks

I love Moleskine notebooks.  Love them.  Adore them.  I have a small collection of unused Moleskines sitting in my nightstand.  But I want more.  For some reason, I can not find the large, hardcover Moleskines anywhere around here.  But this is my dream store.  If only it wasn’t in Malaysia….

I am off to Barnes and Noble tomorrow to see if I can find a large/extra large hardcover Moleskine.

Are there any other Moleskine writers out there?