My Problems with Borders Bookstores

Last year, a Borders store opened up down the street.  Since then, I have had a few complaints from my students about them (see here and here).  But today, two of my students brought up separate events they had experienced at our local Borders which annoyed me a little.  Obviously, as a passionate language arts teacher I work extremely hard at getting my students to become readers (and hopefully lifelong readers).  So it really irks me when a sales associate who does not know my students makes a judgement about their reading. 

Case in point #1– One of my students is  having a hard time finding books that she likes.  We have been working very hard and she is being a really good sport about finding books and giving them a try.  She just hasn’t found that spark or connection yet.  Recently she went to Borders in search of some books, hoping to find that perfect book.  Apparently, a sales associate approached her and began giving some suggestions.  In theory, I LOVE this idea.  Unfortunately, it didn’t really work out for her.  When my student got up the nerve to say that she was interested in reading Twilight , the associate said no! According to my student, the associate said, “That’s not an appropriate book for you. That’s a book for girls who like romance. Why don’t you try and read that in a few years?”

Excuse me!? First of all, my student had her mother with her. I support telling the mother what the book is about, letting her make the final choice. But what right does a bookseller have to tell a tween that she shouldn’t read a book sold in the YA department? There is no sex, no cursing, and by all accounts Meyers wrote a pretty tame book by YA standards. And if a 12 year old wants to read a book, why discourage her?! My student was so upset she left without any books at all. The bookseller made her feel like she wasn’t mature enough to choose her own books. UGH.


Case in point #2– A different student is flying through the Cirque Du Freak series.  He is thrilled about the upcoming movie and comes in everyday to share news and tidbits with me.  I only have the first four books in the series in my classroom library, so he went to Borders to purchase the remaining 12 books.  When he couldn’t find them on the shelf, he asked for help from a sales associate.  The associate checked the computer and then told he, “No one reads those books so we don’t stock them.  We stock books that sell well and no one is interested in those”.  When he protested and explained that the movie would be coming out in 2009 and that a lot of kids in his class love them, the associate responded that the movie wasn’t going to do well and then turned away!  No offer to special order them, nothing!  Can you imagine?!  Who says that to a teenage boy who is reading?  And requesting books!  At a bookstore!

So he went to Barnes and Noble, who apologized that they were sold out and immediately placed a special order for him.  


It’s things like this that only further discourage tweens/teens from reading.  And it’s why I wish we had independent bookstores around here!


Light and Fluffy Reading

Ever have one of those days when you just need the book equivalent of cotton candy?  I have persuasive letter rough drafts to go over, it feels like it should be Friday already, and I am just plain exhausted.  There is a stack of Cybils nominees next to my coffee table.  Plus, my school district just passed a redistricting plan for next year that could put my job in jeopardy.  Thus, I just needed a fun book to read.  The result?  Me sitting on my couch, in sweatpants, reading Secrets of My Hollywood Life: On Location by Jen Calonita.  Fun, funny, and nothing too heavy!  

Just one of those days.  🙂

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Detective

Mystery books are always hot in my classroom.  The danger, intrigue, and suspense are enticing to tweens and there is an abundance of titles out there that keep tweens turning the pages.

  • The 39 Clues (The Maze of Bones, Book 1) by Rick Riordan and the second book, 39 Clues: One False Note by Gordan Korman are the most popular books in my classroom right now. Eventually a 10 book series, The 39 Clues, is the story of two orphans who are swept into a worldwide hunt for the story of their family.  When their Aunt Grace dies, they discover that her will is not the typical will.  Instead, she gives her descendants a choice- take 1 million dollars right now or take a clue.  Grace is the last matriarch of the Cahills, the world’s most powerful family. Everyone from Napoleon to Houdini is related to the Cahills, yet the source of the family power is lost. 39 clues hidden around the world can reveal the family’s secret, but no one has been able to assemble them. Whoever does find the 39 clues will win much more than 1 million dollars.


  • The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney- I still remember reading this when I was in middle school.  Man, did I love it.  A decade later, I wasn’t sure if my students would connect with it.  It turns out I didn’t need to worry at all- this is another series that never stays on my library shelves.  For those who haven’t read the book, it’s absolutely fascinating.  When Janie finds her own picture on the back of milk carton, labeled as a missing child, her entire world is turned upside down.  Who are her parents?  Are they really her parents?  Is her whole life a lie?  This is a page-turner that tweens don’t want to put down, and I haven’t had a single reader give up on the series after one book- they all read the entire series!


  • The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright-  This is a mystery that I see many of my students reading and rereading.  Many of them read it as a class novel in 5th grade and choose to reread it again at some point during 6th grade because they enjoyed it so much.  A quick summary (courtesy of Amazon)- The attic is always a great place to look for nuggets of one’s family history, but when 12-year-old Amy explores her great-grandparents’ attic, she uncovers clues to a chilling family secret. As Amy and her Aunt Claire sift through clothes, trinkets and other memorabilia, Amy comes across Aunt Claire’s long-forgotten dollhouse, a finely crafted replica of the house they are in. Aunt Claire seems unusually distressed about the dollhouse and Amy is determined to find out why. The real fun begins when Amy learns that the dolls in the dollhouse move of their own willAand that they seem to be trying to tell her something. After a little sleuthing at the local library, Amy learns that her great-grandparents were murdered years ago and that Aunt Claire’s fiance (who died in a car accident that same night) was the prime suspect in the unsolved case.  Chilling!


  • Silent to the Bone by E.L. Konigsburg- What happened on November 25, 2:43 P.M. to cause Branwell Zamborska to become stop speaking? All anyone knows is that he called 911 because his baby sister stopped breathing, and when he was unable to speak to the operator, Vivian, the English nanny, said that Branwell had dropped the baby and shaken her. Branwell’s best friend, Connor, begins visiting him at the juvenile hall, where he has been sent while Nikki remains in a coma at the hospital. Working out a code they both can use, Connor begins the long process of trying to communicate with his friend to find out what really happened. Connor knows that his best friend didn’t hurt the baby, but how can he prove it to everyone else if Branwell won’t speak. This is a realistic mystery that kids won’t want to put down.


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Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Struggling Reader

Sometimes the hardest tweens to shop for are those who read below grade-level.  They long to read the books that their peers are reading but the fact is they have note reached that level yet.  And they don’t want to read “baby” books.  Below are a few books that my struggling 6th grade readers are really enjoying this year.


  • Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford- Moxy Maxwell is a procrastinator (much like my students). She was assigned Stuart Little for summer reading, but it is still unread on the last day before the first day of school. Sound familiar? Moxy won’t be allowed to play the eighth daisy petal in the water ballet at the local pool if she hasn’t finished the book by the time Mom returns home. Moxy is trying to read. Or start to read. But things keep getting in the way! First, Moxy’s room must be cleaned, Then the dog has to be trained. She also takes time to ponder the idea of inventing a hammock that automatically stops swinging when the person gets off. She decides to plant a peach orchard). And all of her procrastinations are documented by her brother, a budding photographer. The book has great photos and a lot of white space, perfect for struggling readers! Plus, it’s hysterical.


  • Clementine by Sara Pennypacker- Clementine will remind older readers of Ramona and Junie B. Jones. Always getting into scrapes, she only has the best of intentions. For example, who hasn’t cut their friend’s hair in order to get glue out of it? Clementine takes it a step further (and better) by drawing hair back on her friend’s scalp. In flaming red marker! Readers will be laughing out loud while reading this book!


  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick- Last year’s Caldecott winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a gorgeous and stunning book. It’s also perfect for struggling readers. The story is told in words and pictures. Flipping through the book is almost like watching a movie. The illustrations sometimes go on for 50 pages and if you don’t read the pictures, you won’t understand the story. The perfect cross between a novel and a graphic novel, this 544 page book is just perfect for older readers who struggle with typical novels. And the heavy tome makes them fit right in with their peers.


  • Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper- Just Grace is in class with three other Graces. Hence the “Just Grace” moniker. Her adventures are reminiscent of Ramona and Moxy, with plenty of laughs and scrapes to get into (and out of).  This is the beginning of a great series that readers won’t want to put down!


  • The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick- Ten-year-old Victor has no success trying to do the same tricks as his hero, Harry Houdini; no matter how hard or often he tries, he just can’t escape from a locked trunk, or hold his breath underwater, or run through walls. Then he meets the magician himself in a crowded train station, and some time later receives a mysterious locked box engraved with the initials “E. W.” Victor can’t figure out who E. W. is and, annoyed, puts the box away without a second thought. Many years later, after he grows up and has a son of his own, he learns that Houdini’s real name was Ehrich Weiss. Remembering the box, he rushes home, opens it, and that night, he locks himself in the trunk–and escapes in less than 20 seconds. The book includes a small biography of Houdini and is perfect for magic-lovers.

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Writing Letter-essays

One of my favorite reading units is Letter-essays.  Based on Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers, letter-essays are letters that students write to me on a rotating basis about the book they are reading or have just finished reading.  I love the interaction that the letter-essays breed and the growth I see in them across the school year is phenomenal.

This year I started my letter-essay unit about 3 weeks later than last year.  My students need more scaffolding this year and I felt it would go better if I had a little more time to work up to it with them.  I am also altering my unit a bit.  For the first time I am using Lucy Calkins’ Literary Essay unit of study to guide the unit.  While my students won’t be writing literary essays, the unit of study provides a perfect backdrop for the letter-essays.  It does a great job of getting students to think about their reading and start responding to it deeply; something they haven’t done much of until now.  

It’s always a struggle in the beginning because students are used to answering straight comprehension questions about their reading.  Thinking deeply is difficult, but the results are always awesome!  At the end of this week I will introduce an example letter-essay from a former student and have students begin writing a rough draft of their first letter-essay.  By Winter Break the students will have a schedule of due dates and the first letter-essays will be due in mid-January.  After that, they will write me a letter once a month, which I will respond to.  

For the first time I am considering having students write letter-essays to a classmate also, on the alternate weeks.  I think it is so important for students to see the social connections books bring us, and letter-essays are a non-threatening way to do this.

Summit and Catherine Hardwicke Part Ways for Twilight Sequels

I know I have a lot of Twilight fans reading the blog feed.  I was very surprised when I opened my favorite Hollywood gossip page and read  that  Catherine Hardwicke, director of Twilight, has been fired.  Deadline Hollywood ( updating page with new announcements as they come) says “Summit Entertainment Co-Chairman/CEO Rob Friedman just phoned me to say: ‘Catherine and Summit have agreed to part ways on the sequel because our visions are different.’”    Within minutes of reading the gossip online, Summit made an official announcement.  

I still haven’t seen the movie, but I find this news fascinating.  I know that Nikki Reed and Kristen Stewart made it quite clear that Hardwicke was the reason they signed on for the movie in the first place.  I wonder how they are taking this news?  

As Harry Potter fans know, different directors don’t necessarily effect box office results when a movie/series already has a rabid following.  But if any of the actors choose to leave, that might make a bigger difference to the tween fans.  Honestly though, my students are obsessed with the character and the stories- not the actors and actresses on the screen.  I doubt they would even notice!

Still, interesting news…

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- The Twilight Fanatic

The symptoms are clear.  Your tween reader is suddenly in love with an older man.  A much older man.  His name is Edward Cullen.  Or maybe your teen suddenly asks about becoming a vegetarian.  You know, like the vampires.  Before you know it, you’ve been dragged to a midnight showing of Twilight and you have no idea what has gotten into your tween!

These symptoms have been manifesting themselves in my classroom for weeks now.  Boys and girls alike are working their way through Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1) series.  But what do they read after they finish the addictive story of Edward and Bella?


For the reader who is now obsessed with vampires:

  • London, 1850 (The Vampire Plagues I) by Sebastian Rook- Set in London’s Victorian Age, an enormous ship has just reached port. From its hull, a flock of bats ascends and disappears into the streets of London. Jack plans to board the ship, in search of food or money to steal. Instead, he meets a boy who is running for his life! The boy recounts horrific tales about a vampire plague that’s killed the entire crew. Jack immediately vows to vanquish the creatures and this is the first book in a series. Great for those who love the vampires in Meyers’ books!



  • Cirque Du Freak Boxed Set #1 by Darren Shan- Soon to be a feature-length motion picture starring John C. Reilly and Salma Hayek, Cirque Du Freak is the story of a young boy who visits a freak show and must become a vampire in order to save his friend’s life. Sufficiently gory and creepy in turn, this is a series that rarely stays on the shelves in my classroom library. With the movie being released in 2009, it will only grow in popularity!


For the romance lover:

  • The Luxe by Anna Godbersen- Like Gossip Girl, only set in the 1890’s, this luscious tale of murder (or so the reader thinks), love, class, and wealth is full of ballrooms, gowns, and illicit romances. My Meyers’ fans are passing this series around and loving it!


For the “I love Stephenie Meyers and Gossip Girl/The Clique” reader:

  • Blue Bloods (Blue Bloods, Book 1) by Melissa de la Cruz- This story features a group of attractive, privileged Manhattan teens who attend a prestigious private school. Sound familiar? Schuyler Van Alen is 15 and the last of the line in a distinguished Manhattan family. Schuyler and her friends Oliver and Dylan are treated like outsiders by the clique of popular, athletic, and beautiful teens made up of Mimi Force, her twin brother, and her best friend at their school. Little do they know that they are all more connected than they realize. What they have in common is the fact that they are all Blue Bloods, or vampires. They don’t realize that they aren’t normal teens until they reach age 15. Then the symptoms manifest themselves and they begin to crave raw meat, have nightmares about events in history, and get prominent blue veins in their arms. Their immortality and way of life are threatened after Blue Blood teens start getting murdered by a splinter group called the Silver Bloods.


The “I will read anything Stephenie Meyers says is great” fan:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins- When Stephenie Meyer mentioned on her website that she loved Suzanne Collins’ new book, The Hunger Games, teens all over the world began clamoring for copies. What they didn’t know is that booksellers, librarians, and teachers had already been talking about the book and building buzz for a possible Newbery Medal or Honor. A phenomenal book, tweens won’t be able to put The Hunger Games down! Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games.” The location, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat’s sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place. A frightening combination of Survivor and American Idol, you won’t be able to put this one down!



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