A few years ago I stumbled upon one of my favorite message boards- Scarlet Nation (Rutgers Sports).  I read the boards daily and feel like I have gotten to know John, the founder.  John is also a phenomenal teacher who blogs over at A Community of Learners.  He recently began a new venture that I suspect will become huge in he next few months.  As he describes it best, I will quote him:

There are dozens – perhaps hundreds – of books that discuss the basic principals behind the reading workshop and other programs that stress the importance of independent reading. There are also many groups and individuals who charge a hefty fee to share their knowledge of the program.

At the same time, there are thousands of teachers who are “in the trenches” with the reading workshop every day. Many have more practical knowledge than the authors who are writing texts and the staff developers who are delivering the high priced presentations. That is where comes in.Open Source Reading is an online community for anyone who teaches reading. The focus at this point are grades 3-8.

our philosophy: Children make the most progress when they spend large blocks of time reading “just right” books and sharing their texts with others.

our motto: Try it. Change it. Share it.

The motto is at the core of the site. Open source materials (units of study, conferring sheets, graphic organizers) are free for you to download, customize and distribute. Consider the materials on this site to be a starting ground. All that we ask is that, if you use a reproducible page, please support the site and its users by…
1) including a link to in the footer of any page that you use or customize
2) email a copy of all customized pages to John so that he may put them back on the site to share with others

Happy reading!

A Community of Learners


I’ve already signed up and explored the site.  It’s wonderful!  You should definitely check it out!


What I Saw and How I Lied by by Judy Blundell

A few weeks ago I opened a package from Scholastic that included a review copy of What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell.  I glanced it over and quickly put it on my “To Be Read” shelf.  (Sidenote:  Yes, shelf.  My pile has grown to an entire bookshelf).  While the cover was gorgeous, there was no blurb on the back.  It looked like a typical YA title so I figured I would read it when I had a chance, not thinking it was anything special.  Then, the National Book Award nominees were announced, and What I Saw And How I Lied was on the list.  I figured I would read it quickly over the weekend, as I had already read and loved 3 of the other 5 nominees. 

Why did I wait so long to read this?!  And why have I not heard any buzz about Blundell’s stunning book yet?

Evie and her mom have always been a team.  Her dad left them long ago, and they’ve been each other’s best friend ever since.  Shortly before World War II, Evie’s mother met Joe, a man who took care of them both.  Before he was shipped out, they were married and Evie got the father she had always imagined.  Times were tough during the war, and they were even tougher because Evie and her mom were forced to live with Joe’s mom, cranky Grandma Glad (a misnomer if Evie has ever heard one).  But when Joe Spooner returns from the war, it seems like everything has gone back to normal.  Sure, Joe doesn’t talk about the war.  But Evie and her mother do everything they can to be a great family for him.  And Joe is able to open up a chain of appliance stores in New York City, making more money than they ever imagined possible.

Life seems perfect, until Joe starts receiving phone calls from a supposed war buddy.  When Joe begins acting strange and uncomfortable, he suggests the family take a vacation to Florida.  Even though school starts in only a few weeks, Evie is eager for some adventure.  What 15 year old isn’t?  So Evie, her mother, and Joe pack the car and head to Palm Beach.  Of course, no one has told them that Palm Beach is empty in the summer and won’t be full of life again until December!  But they manage to find an open hotel and book an open-ended stay.

It’s the dream of a lifetime for Evie.  Sun, swimming, shopping, and no school!  The Spooners befriend another couple in the hotel, the Graysons, who take a special interest in Evie.  Mrs. Grayson takes a liking to Evie and enjoys dressing her up and convincing her parents to treat her as less of a child and more of an adult.  Evie begins to grow into herself, experimenting with her burgeoning womanhood.  Dresses, perfume, and her mother’s heels are suddenly more appealing than before.  

Then Peter shows up at the hotel.  An old army buddy of Joe’s, he happens to be in Palm Beach taking care of some business deals for his father.  He’s young, handsome, worldly, and Evie falls in love immediately.  Very reluctantly, Joe allows Evie and her mother to spend time with Peter.  Falling deeper and deeper in love, Evie begins to learn that adulthood isn’t all sunshine and butterflies.  When Peter begins to share his experiences in the war with her, she learns that Joe isn’t the man she thought he was.  Suddenly, she questions her life and her family.  Does war excuse atrocious acts?  If her father made it home, is that good enough?  

One night, during a terrible hurricane, everything takes a turn for the darker side.  Suddenly, Evie is surrounded by a murder, murder(s), and lies.  Who can she trust?  Is her mother 

I hate to summarize the book, because Judy Blundell has woven an intricate story, full of dark twists and turns down paths you can’t even imagine.  There is murder, intrigue, a fascinating backdrop of World War II, racism, classism, and a classic (but dark) coming-of-age story.  To summarize more would give away too much of the plot and I would hate to ruin it for anyone.  

Once I began reading, it immediately became clear why this is a National Book Award nominee.  It’s almost impossible to put this book down.  And along with a fascinating story, Judy Blundell has included accurate and fascinating historical details.  Yes, this is historical fiction that teens will want to read!  In fact, it’s the best kind of historical fiction- teens won’t even realize that it’s historical!  The setting is a vital part of the story, rather than an extraneous backdrop only good for history lessons.  

Evie is a complicated teen that contemporary readers will identify with.  Her mother babies her and doesn’t want to see her grow up.  She just wants to be treated like an adult.  When she falls in love with a slightly older man, she finally feels like she has become the adult no one will let her be.  But is adulthood all it is cracked up to be?  And are the ties of a first love more binding than those of family?  And how do you choose?

If you haven’t read this yet, get your hands on it right now!  You will not be able to put it down.  


Nota Bene- When I googled Judy Blundell, I was shocked to find out she has published hundreds of books under pseudonyms.  She is Jude Watson of the Premonition books, a favorite of my students!  And even better, she will be writing the 4th book in The 39 Clues series!

Beedle the Bard on Display!

The Collector's Edition

The Tales of Beedle the Bard (standard edition) will be released to the public at large on December 4th.  It goes without saying that my copy is already on pre-order.  Oh, how I wish I could afford this: The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Collector’s Edition (Offered Exclusively by Amazon)   However, I never imagined that I would get the opportunity to view one of the original books here in the United States.  But when I logged onto The Leaky Cauldron this afternoon, I was astonished to learn that one of the seven original manuscripts would be on display in New York City this winter!   

one of the seven original handwritten copies of the book will be on display to the public here in New York City in December. Scholastic has announced that Arthur Levine, editor of the US editions of the Harry Potter novels, was one of the lucky people to receive a copy of this book from J.K. Rowling, and will lend his book for display at the The New York Public Library. Fans here in the States will be able to see the book for free when it is on display at the library December 4, 2008 to January 4, 2009

courtesy of The Leaky Cauldron


I know that I will definitely be making my way to the NYPL sometime during that month!  Also of note is that there will be a special press preview on December 3rd  “where Arthur Levine will be appearing, and ‘will share his experiences editing the series and the thrill of being one of only six individuals who received the special gift from Ms. Rowling.’ ”  Ummm, WOW!?  How amazing would that reception be?  


So, will you make it a point to stop by and view the manuscript during December?

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!