I am so excited about Operation Teen Book Drop 09!  Readergirlz just put up details about this years event.  What exactly is Operation TBD?  Operation Teen Book Drop is an amazing project that brings donations of thousands of fantastic YA titles to hospitalized teens all over the country.

We are delighted to be teaming up with GuysLitWire and YALSA for the second Operation Teen Book Drop! In honor of Support Teen Literature Day, April 16th, 2009, readergirlz, GuysLitWire, YALSA, and publishers are working together to donate YA books to hospitalized teens across the country.

Readergirlz is a teen online book community where members are challenged to read, reflect, and reach out. GuysLitWire  is a top book-review source for literature appealing to teen guys. YALSA is the world leader in selecting books, videos, and audiobooks for teens.

I think I want to get my classes involved in TBD this year.  It would be a great follow-up to our Valentine’s Day Hope Chests.  You should get involved, too!



Walden Media Plans New Movies

Am I the only one who didn’t know about the movies Walden Media has put into motion?  According to Publisher’s Weekly,  they begin filming Beezus and Ramona next month!  How awesome is that?  And Disney star Selena Gomez has been cast as Beezus, which I think sounds great.

In the development stages are another Narnia movie and Ingrid Law’s Savvy!

Scat by Carl Hiaasen

Scat is Carl Hiaasen’s latest book for middle grade/YA readers. Nick Waters and some of his friends are pulled into an eco-avenger’s plot to save endangered Florida panthers and put a halt to illegal drilling going on in the Everglades. When Nick’s strict (and sort of crazy) biology teacher goes missing during a wildfire that breaks out on a class trip, no one is sure whether to be worried or elated. Even weirder, though, is that one of their more “infamous” classmates, Smoke, isn’t with the class when the fire breaks out. And he doesn’t show up for school. And he had threatened Mrs. Starch the day before. Did he set the fire to get rid of Mrs. Starch?!

Scat deals with a serious ecology topic (similar to Hiaasen’s other novels), but it’s also a very funny book. One of my favorite characters is a substitute teacher who follows very specific guidelines. For example, he always teaches page 263 on Fridays. No matter the subject. Without fail. Every Friday. And he wears a tuxedo and bow tie to class. As a teacher, this had me in stitches. I can only imagine how I would feel as a student reading it!

Unlike Hiaasen’s other books, this one has a bit more mystery. Readers are kept in suspense- I couldn’t put the book down. It is also very contemporary. Nick’s dad is a National Guardsman on tour in Iraq and Nick struggles with his feelings about the war. There are also passing references to Facebook and Myspace.

My favorite aspect of the book is the Florida Panther. This gorgeous animal is one of the most endangered in the world, with between 60 and 100 left in the wild. No one who reads this book can walk away without gaining a love for these majestic animals. And I think that is exactly what Hiaasen is aiming for.

This is a great book that I can’t wait to recommend to my students. I think it will appeal to boys and girls alike, and those who love mysteries and funny books. This is another slam dunk for Carl Hiaasen!

How to Save Money in Education

Jay Mathew’s column in the Washington Post today lists seven ways that schools can save money without spending a dime.  Three of those reasons are directly related to reading and I love them.  But the best of ideas is #1 on the list:

Replace elementary school homework with free reading. Throw away the expensive take-home textbooks, the boring worksheets and the fiendish make-a-log-cabin-out-of-Tootsie-Rolls projects. One of the clearest (and most ignored) findings of educational research is that elementary students who do lots of homework don’t learn more than students who do none. Eliminating traditional homework for this age group will save paper, reduce textbook losses and sweeten home life. Students should be asked instead to read something, maybe with their parents — at least 10 minutes a night for first-graders, 20 minutes for second-graders and so on. Teachers can ask a few kids each day what they learned from their reading to discourage shirkers.


Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  This would be absolutely invaluable for our students.  And I can take it one step further- instead of questioning a few students each day, run reading workshop.  Conference with students, have them complete letter essays in the upper grades, and otherwise engage them with their reading.  If only this would actually happen….

Comprehension Connections

I think I have mentioned Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading by Tanny McGregor before, but it is an invaluable tool for any language arts teacher! Today I used one of the lesson suggestions for inference and it was a huge success!

I brought in a bag of “trash” that I told my kids I took from my weird neighbor’s porch. I really do have a weird neighbor, who I know very little about, so I described him. Then I told them we would be inferring information about him based on the items in his garbage. The kids had a BALL with it! By the end of the activity they were concerned for my safety based on what the inferred. It was great!

In their independent reading, they are now working on an inference chart, making inferences about the main character in their novels and citing the evidence to back them up. So far it’s going very well.

If you don’t already own this book, I highly recommend it!

Valentine’s Day Hope Chests

In my first year of teaching I instituted my favorite tradition of the school year- Valentine’s Day Hope Chests.  I first found out about “Holiday Hope Chests” on Beth Newingham’s Scholastic website. Each chest  is actually a decorated shoe box, filled with small toys, games,  and art supplies chosen especially for a girl or boy of a certain age. My students also make Valentines to enclose in each chest. The chest gives the receiving child a “treasure chest” in which to keep the items together. We donate our hope chests to a local children’s hospital, The Institute for Children with Cancer and Blood Disorders at Robert Wood Johnson.  

As a student at Rutgers, I participated in the Dance Marathon, a 36 hour event that raised money for the Institute.  Meeting the children at the Institute was a life-changing event and I wanted to stay involved when I started teaching.  The Hope Chests were a perfect way to do this.  During my first year of teaching I spoke with one of the child-life specialists at the Institute.  I explained to her what I wanted to do and she was thrilled.  We decided to donate the boxes for Valentine’s Day because it was a holiday that was frequently ignored when other people made donations to the hospital (unlike Christmas and Hanukkah, for example).

Our hope chests begin with a letter we send home to all 100 of our students and their parents.  Each student is asked to bring in a few items (new, unused) that will fit in the shoe boxes.  They are also asked to donate empty shoe boxes.  For two weeks we collect the toys, games, books, art supplies, and boxes.  This past Friday, we spent the morning organizing and decorating!

The students worked in groups, picking out items to fill their boxes with.  After filling the box and decorating it, they labeled the bottom- for example, “Girl 10-12” or “Boy 6-8”.  They also made valentines to place in each box.   

Watching the students carefully put the boxes together is a wonderful feeling.  They are so careful and selective, making sure each box is perfect.  They painstakingly decorate the inside and outside, making the hope chests absolutely perfect.  Their valentines were colored, decorated, and signed with love and care.  It was a beautiful sight and a wonderful morning.  

Immediately after-school, one of my teammates and I drove the Hope Chests to the Institute.  This year, we donated almost 60 Hope Chests, which were to be given out at the hospital’s Valentine’s Day party on Saturday.  🙂



Graceling by Kristin Cashore

A few months ago, i started to read Graceling, got a few pages in, put it down, and never went back. I kept reading reviews that were falling over themselves for the book and I really didn’t get it. I wanted to get it- believe me! I was starting to feel left out!

Earlier this week I picked Graceling up again. This time, I started reading and couldn’t put it down. I was completely pulled into Po and Katsa’s world. I wanted to be Katsa! I don’t know what changed in those few months, but this time Graceling was the book for me! And now I finally know what everyone is talking about!

Katsa is a warrior-girl  with one blue eye and one green eye. She is striking and gorgeous, but this also marks her as a Graceling. Gracelings are beings with special talents—mindreading, dancing, foreseeing weather conditions. Katsa’s Grace is considered more useful: her ability to fight and kill is unequaled in the seven kingdoms of her world. Forced to act as a bully and brute, a hitman for all intents, for a her uncle the king, Katsa channels her guilt by forming a secret council of like-minded citizens who carry out secret missions to promote justice over cruelty and abuses of power.  When she meets her match, another Graceling, she begins to discover who and what she really is.

This is a gorgeous romance set amid a fantastic fantasy.  Cashore has given birth to a new world within these seven kingdoms, and the romance between Po and Katsa will leave your heart racing.  The characters are all fully realized, the setting will have you yearning to visit, and the action will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Thank goodness this is the first in a series!  

(This is  great read for teens and adults.  I’m not sure if I will put it in my classroom library yet, as Katsa does have a sexual relationship.  It’s extremely tasteful, not graphic at all (and honestly, I’m not sure if most middle graders would even realize it)).