2008 Favorites

Well, the year is almost over.  That means it is time for wrap-up lists, one of my favorite parts of the year!  What are your favorite books of the year?  

Below are my favorite titles published this year:


  • Tennyson by Lesley M.M. Blume- I read this way back in the beginning of the year and it still stays with me. An amazing, haunting gothic tale of the fall of the south, through a young girl’s eyes. I loved it and so did my students.  In my review I said, “This is a novel that intelligent readers will love, because Blume does not condescend or speak down to her readers. In many ways, Tennyson reminded me of Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting. “


  • Diamond Willow by Helen Frost- A more recent read, this verse novel is gorgeous. The theme of the diamond willow branch flows smoothly throughout the story and is accessible to readers of all ages. Helen Frost is a master storyteller and I can’t wait to share this with my students.


  •  Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass- I love Wendy Mass and I think this is one of her best.  It is a beautiful story with a ton of kid appeal.  Plus, it made me go out and look up more information on solar eclipses.  Plus, I haven’t seen it since I put it in my class library.  My kids absolutely love it, too!


  • Six Inningsby James Preller- I don’t even like baseball and I loved this book!  A great book to hand to boys and girls alike, it goes much deeper than just baseball and deals with life. The characters are realistic and easy to relate to. It’s just a great book all around!


  • The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1) by Rick Riordan- Admittedly, I wasn’t a big fan of this series when the news first broke. Trading cards? Online games? It sounded like a lame ploy to get kids to read. But when I gave in and read the first book, at the insistence of my class, I was hooked! This is a great mystery series full of Rick Riordan’s trademark humor and realistic characters who have unrealistic lives. Needless to say, it is a huge hit in my classroom and we are all desperately awaiting the release of the third book in the series!


  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson- Our current read-aloud, my class and I love Chains! Isabelle is a complex, multi-faceted character and her conflict with the American Revolution has made us all stop and think of our fight for independence in new ways.  See my review here.


  • My Father’s Son by Terri Fields- I am a bonafide crime addict. Well, reading about crime, at least. And watching many, many episodes of “Law and Order”. So when I had the opportunity to read and review Terri Fields’ My Father’s Son, I was very excited. And the book did not disappoint! Terri has crafted a fascinating story about a boy whose father is arrested and accused of being a serial killer. I couldn’t put it down.


  • The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- From my review: “The Underneath is all at once tragic, consuming, passionate, full of love, hopeful, and alternately beautiful and ugly. Appelt does the almost-impossible, by threading 3 separate stories into one amazing climax that will renew your faith in goodness and love. It is an adventure, full of magic, myth, and mysticism, of sorrow, of family – of life. Woven together like an elaborate tapestry, the result is gorgeous and awe-inspiring. Our first read-aloud of the year, both of my classes absolutely loved this story.”



  • the dead and the gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer- Susan Beth Pfeffer is single-handedly responsible for many of the voracious readers in my class. I am telling you- hand any reluctant reader a copy of the dead and the gone and they will be begging for more. The companion novel to her Life As We Knew It, takes place in NYC after a meteor has knocked the moon out of orbit. It’s absolutely terrifying, in a fantastic way!


  • What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell- This sat on my TBR pile until it was nominated for the National Book Award (which it eventually won). The nomination moved it up on the pile, as I finally learned what it was about. (The ARC had no blurb or summary!). 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. This is a gorgeous book and one I would love to see used in classrooms over the next few years!


I read about 150 books this year, as of December 26th.  These are just a few of my favorites.  Ask me again tomorrow, and you will probably get a different list!  But I would to know what your favorite novels were this year.


Hurricane Song by Paul Volponi

 Hurricane Song is a story about a father and son in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.  I picked this up off the new books display at the local library and wow.  This is a difficult book to read, but one that I imagine will become more popular as we move on from Hurricane Katrina.

Miles is living with his dad, a jazz musician, in New Orleans when Katrina hits.  They evacuate to the Superdome when their car breaks down on the freeway out of town.  Their experiences in the Superdome are absolutely horrific.  I found myself having to put the book down sometimes because it was so difficult to read.  Powerful and important, I can see this becoming a part of high school or college reading in the future, when the pain from Katrina isn’t so fresh.  

Be aware, this is not a middle grades book.  It is definitely YA, due to language and the things that Miles and his family experience.  I would even recommend this to adults, due to the power of Volponi’s descriptions of this national, natural disaster.

New Year’s Resolutions for Teachers

The Cornerstone Blog has a great post about New Year’s Resolutions for teachers.    We all catch ourselves doing it.  You know, saying, “Next year I won’t let *blank* happen!”.  But why wait until next year?  From The Cornerstone Blog:

“So in light of this, I present the “Not Waiting for a New Year” resolution. What do you want to change NOW in your teaching practice? What thing is so important that you can’t afford to write off this year’s kids and wait for a fresh start in the fall? What’s really pressing for you?”


So head on over and post your New Year’s Resolutions!  


My resolution?  To give my students more time for independent reading and writing.  I have somehow managed to lose focus as the year has moved forward and that independent time has fallen by the wayside.  So I will be reworking a few routines and procedures so that I can make that time every day.

Kelly Gallagher Is Coming!

On January 26th Kelly Gallagher will be stopping by to answer questions from you, my readers!  Kelly has a new book coming out and it is amazing. Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do about It is being added to my list of “bible books”.  I am only about halfway through it right now, but I just keep finding myself nodding along with it and sometimes yelling, “YES!”, after reading a chapter.  

Don’t worry, around January 14th I will be able to share a link to the full text of the book so that you can also read over the book before asking Kelly your questions.  This is an amazing opportunity from Stenhouse and I am so excited to be a part of it.  So mark your calendars!k

Best of Cybils Middle Grade Round-up!

Let me tell you, I am so proud of the job my panel has done.  It is harder than you can imagine to whittle down 129 nominees to one shortlist!  Obviously, we all have our favorites that just can’t make the cut.  For some reason, the judges just don’t want a shortlist of 50 books.  😉  In all seriousness, though, we all have our favorites!  We decided to do a round-up, on our individual blogs, of our favorites from the Cybils middle grade nominees.  (Some of these could make the shortlist, but obviously they all can’t).


Tennyson by Lesley M. M. Blume- My review

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt- My review and a post about using it as my first read-aloud of the year.

Aloha Crossing by Pamela Bauer Mueller- My review

Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass- My review

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost- My review

Dog Lost by Ingrid Lee- My review

Meeting Miss 405 by Lois Peterson- My review

Six Innings by James Preller- My review

Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning by Danette Haworth-My review

These were Cybils nominees for Middle Grade Fiction, but they obviously all can’t make to to the shortlist of finalists that will be announced on January 1st. I liked several books that my fellow committee members didn’t care for, and vice-versa. Hopefully you will enjoy some of my selections that didn’t make the shortlist!

Sherry’s list
Matt’s list
Alysa’s list
Kim’s list
Mary’s list

Plane Reading

I am currently in Dublin, Ireland for four days!  I am very excited and hoping it won’t be too cold.  Traveling presents a great opportunity for me to do some reading that I wouldn’t normally get to do.  Before school ended, my class and I discussed out plans for vacation reading and I explained that I would be reading on the plane.  I usually reserve my adult book for plane rides, and I have two long ones for this trip!  We fly non-stop from NJ to Dublin, but on the way home we fly from Dublin to O’Hare, and then home to Newark.  (So cross your fingers- the forecast looks good so far- but no snowstorms on the 27th and nothing from NJ to Chicago on the 1st!)

Here are the books I am bringing in my carry-on:
Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell:  This is one I have been dying to read for a few weeks now. From the Amazon.com review, “alcolm Gladwell poses a more provocative question in Outliers: why do some people succeed, living remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential? Challenging our cherished belief of the “self-made man,” he makes the democratic assertion that superstars don’t arise out of nowhere, propelled by genius and talent: “they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.” Examining the lives of outliers from Mozart to Bill Gates, he builds a convincing case for how successful people rise on a tide of advantages, “some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky.”

College Girl by Patricia Weitz: Megan McCafferty recommended this on her blog and she blurbed it, so I just had to read it! And my local bookstore had it on the shelves a few days early, so I grabbed it. It was technically released on the 26th, but I picked it up on Christmas Eve.
As Simple as Snow  by Gregory Galloway:  This one has been on my shelf for a few months now and I just never got to it. Now seemed like the perfect time.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly:  A Printz winner, this has been on my bookshelf for a few months, too. It sounds great and I can’t wait to read it!

Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin: I took four years of Latin and this is based on Virgil’s Aeneid. How can I not read it?

Broadway Nights: A Romp of Life, Love, and Musical Theatre by Seth Rudetsky: I am bringing the audiobook version of this and can not wait! It’s gotten great reviews from my Broadway friends. Plus, the voices include Kristen Chenowith, Jonathan Groff, and Andrea Martin!

Hopefully, this will be enough books to tide me over.  A six hour plane ride there and 8.5 hours back.  Plus a 5 hour layover in Chicago.  I am planning to sleep a good bit on the plane, but I have to have enough reading material, too!  It’s a hard decision, because I can’t bring really heavy books but I also have to make sure I bring thick books, because more pages means more reading!

Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell

For some reason, Shooting the Moon sat on my TBR pile since last May. I kept meaning to read it and never quite got to it. However, when it was nominated for a Cybil in the Middle Grades category, it finally made its way to the top.

Why did I wait so long to read this?!

Shooting the Moon is about Jamie Dexter, an army brat whose father, the Colonel, has been moved around from base to base.  She is army through and through, and would go fight in Vietnam this instant if she was old enough.  Her father loves this about her, but she is always struggling to get his attention, as her older brother is a star football player and real “daddy’s boy”.  During the summer, Jamie’s dad helps her get a job at the base rec center, volunteering with the soldiers.  It is here that she meets a new friend and learns how to develop her own film.  This newfound photography talent is something she hopes will make her father proud.

Jamie’s whole life changes when her brother, TJ, enlists and is scheduled to be shipped out to Vietnam.  Her world is turned upside down when her army father doesn’t want TJ to enlist.  This goes against everything Jamie believes about her family.  And while TJ is in Vietnam, he sends Jamie film to be developed–pictures that he takes of his daily life. The pictures begin to tell the story of the war of of TJ’s life there.

This is a powerful story that will remind many readers of today’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is the story of how war affects an entire family and how a family deals with a young son that volunteers to be sent to war. It is the story of a young girl growing up and finding herself.  And there is the amazing thread of photography woven throughout the book. It is historical fiction that doesn’t read like historical fiction.  I imagine it will connect with students who love war books, coming-of-age stories, and realistic stories.  It will appeal to boys and girls alike.  Plus, it is a slender book and a quick read that just happens to pack a powerful punch.


On December 27th I will be heading to Ireland for a few days.  I have a few posts scheduled to pop up while I am gone, but I will be enjoying my vacation and staying away from the blog.  


Happy New Year!

One month!

In exactly one month, the Newbery award winners will be announced.  I still have a good number of books to read!    Thanks to Betsy Bird at Fuse #8 for putting together a tally of the mock Newbery lists so far!  I’ve read a good number of them so far:


I’m pretty impressed with the reading I have done so far!  Of course, I have a good deal left to do.  And everyday I read about another book that I just have to read before the awards are announced.  So here’s to lots of reading in the next few weeks!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa!

A blessed and happy holiday to all those who are celebrating!  I hope you open lots of new books today!