One of these weeks….or two

You know those weeks….the ones that seem daunting before they even begin?  This week we have a 1/2 day, an assembly, guidance and computers with my morning class, and 3 extra periods with my afternoon class.  Next week?  Half-days Monday through Thursday because of conference (aaaagh!) and Friday is Halloween.


I am exhausted already.  Sheesh.

The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

Back in December 2007, I posted my thoughts on a new Scholastic series, The 39 Clues.   At the time, I was unsure about the idea of a series that would rely so heavily on a website and trading cards.  This past week, I had the opportunity to read the first book in the series, upon the insistence of my students.

The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1) is written by Rick Riordan. Riordan is one of my favorite middle-grade writers because I feel like he accurately captures the voice of the typical middle schooler. He won’t write each book in the series, but he did write the outline for the entire series and the first book.

I have to say, I loved the book!  I won’t bother to summarize it here, as there are reviews all over the web.  But the story pulls you in immediately, sweeping you into the mystery.  My students are loving the series, and would not rest until I read the book.  For the first time this year, they were the ones recommending a book to me, instead of the other way around!


For those concerned about the “extras”, like the trading cards, the series is meant to be just fine without them.  While I am sure they are fun and the online experience is enjoyable, most of my kids are reading the book without participating in that stuff.  However, the ones who have signed up for the online games are completely into it.  Too bad adults can’t win the big prizes!  😉  Maybe a teacher will get to split the winnings with a luck student somewhere down the line, for introducing them to the books.  Wishful thinking, maybe?

National Book Award Nominees!

The National Book Award Nominees have been announced!  I can not tell you how ecstatic I am about these nominations.  And I didn’t even write the books-  I just read them!



Featuring 2008 National Book Award Finalists:

Laurie Halse AndersonChains (Simon & Schuster)
Kathi AppeltThe Underneath (Atheneum)
Judy BlundellWhat I Saw And How I Lied (Scholastic)
E. LockhartThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks(Hyperion)
Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now (Alfred A. Knopf)


I have already read Chains, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and The Underneath (and absolutely loved them all).   What I Saw and How I Lied is on my shelf and just moved up on my review pile with this endorsement!  I guess that means I need to get my hands on The Spectacular Now!

Sale at Chronicle Books

I received an email today from Brandon at Chronicle Books and he asked me to share this with my readers:

Chronicle Books in San Francisco is having a promotional sale from now through 10/17 on a selection of children’s/YA Halloween titles, which you can find out more about at  It seems to me that many of the titles we’re offering — from a picture book like Frank Was A Monster Who Wanted to Dance to the collection Scary Stories — might be interesting to your readers. The sale details are: 25% off selected titles, with free shipping if the customer enters the promo code HALLOWEEN08 at checkout.


So if you are looking for some Halloween titles, be sure to check out Chronicle Books!

Don’t Forget to Nominate!

Nominations for the third annual Children’ s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards (the Cybils) CLOSE TODAY!  Have you nominated your favorite book published between January 1, 2008 and October 15, 2008?  You only have a few hours left!

This year, awards will be given in nine categories (Easy Readers, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fiction Picture Books, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade Novels, Non-Fiction Middle Grade/Young Adult Books, Non-Fiction Picture Books, Poetry, Young Adult Novels). Anyone can nominate books in these categories (one nomination per person per category). Nominated titles must be published between January 1st and October 15th of this year, and the books must be in English (or bilingual, where one of the languages is English). To nominate titles, visit the Cybils blog before the end of Wednesday!

There is a separate post available for each category – simply nominate by commenting on those individual posts.

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

In Waiting for Normal, Addie has been coping with her mother’s erratic behavior for most of her life.  Her mom is an “all or nothing” person, she explains.  When her mom and her stepfather separate and her mom leaves Addie at home with her half-sisters for 3 days, life is turned upside down.   The resulting divorce has led to Addie living with her bipolar mother, while custody of Addie’s half-sisters has been given to her loving step-father.  

Addie had a taste of normal when her mom was married to Dwight, but now it seems that she is just “waiting for normal”.  Her mom can never quite get there.  Dwight does everything he can for them, setting them up in a small trailer.  But the courts won’t give him custody of Addie.  Her mother is constantly flying from man to man and idea to idea.  Whether she is staying up all night to chat online or getting involved in pyramid scheme businesses, Addie is stuck caring for herself and her mother.  

At first glance, this may sound like one of those over-the-top, everything is terrible, could never really happen books.  But as you get deeper into the story, you realize there are a lot of Addies out there. We have kids raising themselves and caring for their dysfunctional parents all over the country.  And Addie isn’t blatantly abused. She is just neglected by a mother who can’t care for her daughter, even though she thinks she is doing the right thing.  Addie is resilient, even though she thinks she isn’t.  I found myself getting teary-eyed at the end of the book, because I felt like I knew her, and I was so proud of her!

This is a great book for middle grade girls.  It’s not that I don’t think boys would enjoy the story, but there are quite a few mentions of Addie’s experiences with puberty.  This is the same reason I wouldn’t feel comfortable reading it out loud.  It’s definitely a book that I can see some of my girls reading and enjoying, but I can’t think of any of my boys who would have the desire to read about periods (or the ability to do so without hysterical laughter).  However, the story is wonderful and it breaks my heart to think of how many Addies are out there right now, hiding their reality from friends, family, and teachers.

Helping Struggling Readers Find the Perfect Book

Michele left a comment on one of my posts last week and I have been contemplating an answer ever since.  


I am in my second year of using Reader’s Workshop so it still feels very new to me. Would you mind speaking about how you help struggling readers in your class? I have found that a few of my students are selecting books that are much too challenging for them just to be reading what the other kids are reading. I try to direct them toward more appropriate material, but they usually abandon what I suggest and head straight back for whatever is hot at the moment.

I am almost at the point of telling a few students that they have to read a book that I select for them. Does that defeat the whole purpose of Reader’s Workshop and choice in their reading materials? Is there something that you have tried or have heard about that you could suggest?


Every year I have a handful of students who choose books that only frustrate them.  It’s a difficult situation to deal with, because I do not want to discourage them from reading and I don’t want to stop them from reading about a topic that they enjoy.  However, if they can’t comprehend the novel or fluently read it. they may just end up hating the act of reading.  So how do I help them?

The answer for me is time.  I spend a lot of time with these kids.  We talk about what they like, authors they have enjoyed, their favorite topics, etc.  I really get to know them as people and as readers.  Because I read so many books over the course of a given year, I have a wide variety of texts that I can draw from as recommendations.  This is one of the reasons I force myself to read and review books that I might not normally read on my own.  I can better serve my students when I have variety of genres and authors to draw on.  I also read reviews from blogs and industry magazines like School Library Journal for even more ideas.  My media center librarian is my ally in this, too!  

It can take weeks to find something that a reluctant and struggling readers can read and wants to read.  There will be a lot of abandoned books along the way.  In my classroom, the rule is that a student must give a book at least 50 pages before deciding to abandon it.  However, I waive that for some of my struggling readers.  Depending on the student, I will give them a 20-25 page limit for abandonment.  And my kids feel comfortable abandoning books.  I share my own experiences with abandoning books that were not “just right” for me, so they know that real readers don’t finish every single book they start.  All I ask is that they can give me a reason for abandoning their book.  I have heard everything from “I can’t connect to the characters” to “The vocabulary is just too hard”.  Because I know my students as readers, I can usually judge how truthful they are being. 🙂  

To put it simply, time is your friend.  Make sure you have a lot of books to choose from.  And make recommendations.  But let your students make the final choice.  And when they do find something they enjoy reading, let them!  Even if that means they read six books in a row about kids who play baseball.  Keep building their confidence- in their ability to read fluently, their ability to comprehend their reading, and the ability to choose their own reading  material.  Choice in reading material for independent reading is the most important factor in my reading workshop and I firmly believe it is what has made my workshop successful!

100,000 Visitors!

Wow!  Today I hit 100,000 views on my blog!  Back when I began blogging a year ago, I never imagined 100,000 people would be interested in what I have to say…..Thank you!!

Hot Books

Now that the school year is back in full-swing, it’s time for a new edition of “Hot Books in My Middle School Classroom”!  It’s always interesting to start with a new class, because their tastes can be so different than those of my last class.  

These are the books that are making their way from student to student in my room so far this year:

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer- Always a popular choice, the waiting list for this one is huge in my classroom library!

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1) by Stephenie Meyer- Last year, I could not get my kids to read this. It just didn’t appeal to them for some reason. This year, it is the complete opposite! I have boys and girls reading the book and loaning copies to each other. Could it be related to the movie coming out next month? Who knows, but I’ll take it!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book by Jeff Kinney- While it isn’t a traditional book, I teach Language Arts, so anything that get my students reading and writing is a winner in my eyes! I have quite a few orders for this in our latest Scholastic book clubs order and the word of mouth has been great.

Falling Up by Shel Silverstein- It’s funny, but poetry has never been particularly popular in my room. But this year, I have a few boys who LOVE to read Shel Silverstein. Falling Up is a big favorite this year and I have a small handful of students who read this a few times a week during independent reading. It’s an interesting phenomenon!

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen- A popular book with my students who love survival stories. This one is slowly gaining ground in my afternoon class.

Dodger and Me by Jordan Sonnenblick

Dodger and Me is about Willie Ryan.  You see, Willie is not the most popular kid in 5th grade.  In fact, he might even be the least popular.  His baseball team calls him Wimpy, his best friend moved away a few months ago, and stupid Lizzie (from England) won’t stop following him around.  Oh, and Lizzie is constantly embarrassing him by cheering at his baseball games.  To make it worse, she says all the wrong things!  Plus, Willie’s mom treats him like a complete baby and is the queen of safety.  But all that begins to change when he gets his very own magical blue chimp wearing an eye patch and orange Bermuda shorts.  Dodger suddenly appears out of what he refers to as a lamp and what Willie is convinced is a broken teapot.

Willie already knows he is pathetic and he doesn’t really need a giant blue chimp to follow him around and constantly remind him of his loser status.  However, once Dodger enters his life, nothing is ever the same.  The question is, is that a good or bad thing?

This is a great book for middle grade readers, especially boys.  It’s silly without being over-the-top.  Willie is easy to relate to and is a pretty typical 5th grade boy.  And who doesn’t dream of having a goofy blue chimp around to grant their wishes?  Sonnenblick has always been a favorite of mine for his older middle grade/young adult novels.  But he clearly knows younger elementary kids just as well as he knows middle schoolers.  I predict this will be a hit with my kids!