Looking for Books About Breast Cancer

I received an email from a reader today and I am hoping some of you can help her!

Could you steer me towards a middle grade novel in which a child deals with a mom who has breast cancer? I don’t want one in which the mom dies.
I can find a few picture books about this topic, but the girls in need are eight and good readers.
Thank you so much.

Any suggestions for Betsy?  Please leave them in the comments!


The Fate of Reading

Yesterday on Twitter I followed a link to Musing of a Book Addict’s post Venting About The Fate of Reading and Reading Teachers.  As I read her post, I felt myself growing more and more frustrated.  Sandra laid out her own anger with the canned and scripted reading program she is expected to use with her 7th and 8th graders this year.  While I despise scripted programs this part angered me the most:

If they finish a lesson early they may read one of the following books from the program’s library: The Tiger Rising, Johny Hangtime, Bird, The Boy Who Saved Baseball, Night of the Twisters, Every Living Thing, Locomotion, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup.
Only these 8 books – OR –They may read either the Kids Discover Magazine, Cobblestone Muse, Faces or Odyssey Magazine or Footsteps. Of course they (the program) have picked the approved topic such as Bridges, climate, fairy tales, Chemistry of chocolate, or Folk Art.

On day 5 and 10 if they finish their computerized lesson they are to go to the online book cart (part of the program) and pick one of their selections and read it and test on it and then go to their online books (part of the program) and read a passage and test on it.

If at anytime they finish all of the above the only other approved book is their required novel from their Language Arts class. 

WHAT?!  First of all, there is nothing wrong with The Tiger Rising, Johny Hangtime, Bird, The Boy Who Saved Baseball, Night of the Twisters, Every Living Thing, Locomotion, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup.  However, there is no way on earth those eight books will connect with all of the program’s students.  They are great books but students should be able to choose from the thousands and thousands of middle grade and YA books out there to read.  Who chose those 8 books?  Which students are they meant to speak to?  What about the students who won’t connect with those books?  

And then if they happen to finish all those books they can then read their novel for language arts and only that class novel.

Personal choice means nothing? 

Students can’t be trusted to choose their own books?

I spend the beginning of each year teaching my sixth graders how to choose books.  For a small handful of students the process can take almost the whole year.  However, they are capable of choosing appropriate books that they will enjoy once they are taught how to choose those books.  How do we expect students to grow into lifelong readers if we teach them that they can’t handle the responsibility of finding their niche in the world of reading?

The program Sandra’s district has implemented actually states that all pleasure reading is to be done at home.  What a laugh!  It’s the rare student who will take time out of their night to read a book for pleasure if their teachers don’t model the importance of pleasure reading in school.  If we don’t show that reading deserves to be done and is important in our daily life then students won’t make that judgement on their own.  My students read independently every.single.day. I make sure to carve the time out of our school day and they then carve out time at home.  It’s a reciprocal relationship.  If it is important to me it becomes important to them.

But what upset me even more in Sandra’s post were her anecdotes about the other teachers in her district who are blindly accepting the canned program.  In fact, they are glad to have it.  Upon hearing that Sandra read books for her students over the summer, they actually responded with disbelief and almost-horror.  Why on earth would a teacher do that “crap”, as one of the teachers so eloquently put it?  

You want to know why Johnny and Johnae can’t read? We have too many teachers willing to let administrators spend thousands of dollars for canned programs that list the benchmarks and what to say and even have the lesson plans written up. That way they don’t have to do anything. 

We need to stop this.  There is no better way to get students reading then putting books in their hands.  BOOKS.  Not basal readers, not graphic organizers, not workbooks.  Actual, physical, paper-and-glue books.  Real novels and stories, not those written specifically for test prep and canned programs.  Literature.  For the past three years I have been growing readers in my classroom, as Jen says, and I do it with nothing more than a classroom library and booktalks.  My students still learn and use the comprehension strategies, they write about reading, they hold conversations about their books.  In fact, they go above and beyond what the scripted programs ask for.  I have extremely high expectations for them and they meet those expectations every year.

Does this mean I have to write my own lesson plans, read professional literature, keep up on children’s literature, and do a little more work?  Sure.  But it’s what is best for my students and it’s what has been working for the past three years.  How can you be a reading teacher and hate reading?  How can you think that reading from a script and never deviating from it is what’s best for our students?!  If all we need to teach kids is a script, then hire a robot instead of a teacher.  Or sit kids in front of a computer.  All you will get is a generation of test-takers.  Sure they’ll pass the standardized tests but they won’t be lifelong learners and they certainly won’t be readers or writers.  And where would our world be without readers and writers?

Whether you are dealing with dormant readers, developing readers, or underground readers- literature is the way to go.  In fact, it is the only way to go.  As teachers we need to get the message out to administrators and politicians that we don’t want these programs!  Instead, the millions of dollars spent annually on reading programs should be funneled to school and classroom libraries.  We should be booking author visits, connecting students with real live writers and creators.  We should be buying novels, graphic novels, realistic fiction, non-fiction, every genre of books for our schools.  We should be exposing students to real text with real stories.  Not some 5-paragraph garbage written for a computer reading program with 10 multiple-choice questions that dig no deeper than recall on Bloom’s Taxonomy yet we call it “everyday text”.  Ridiculous.  Everyday text is made up of what we really read everyday- books, brochures, recipes, signs, newspapers, and so much more.

Books are the answer.  Real reading makes readers.  

Not scripts.

Not programs.

Teachers + books + students


Lifelong readers.


Love Is the Higher Law by David Levithan

I’ve been struggling with this review for the past few days.  You see, the photograph on the cover of David Levithan’s  Love Is the Higher Law is identical to the view of New York from my hometown. I can see the beams of light from my bedroom window at my parent’s house.  My hometown lost 37 people on Sept. 11, “more victims per capita than any other place in the state and the second hardest hit city after New York.”  Almost ten years later, 9/11 is still raw in my mind.  I was in my freshman year of college at Rutgers when the towers fell, and I will never, ever forget what that day felt like.  What it still feels like to hear name after name on the anniversary of people I went to church with, people whose kids played sports with me, people who were there one day and gone in an instant.

David Levithan was in his office in New York on the morning of September 11th and experienced the horror firsthand.  He wrote Love Is the Higher Law  after realizing that while there is a plethora of literature about 9/11 aimed at adults, there isn’t much aimed at the YA market.  For many teens, 9/11 is a distant and vague memory.  I experience the same shock every year when my new students tell me they were in kindergarten or preschool on 9/11.  This year’s class will have been one or two years old.  9/11 isn’t even history to them- it’s beyond that.  But Levithan wanted to capture the feelings that permeated throughout the city in the days and months following the tragedy so that teens would be able to connect with it.  

In Love Is the Higher Law, we meet three teens on September 11th.  Claire is in high school that morning, Peter is skipping class to buy the new Bob Dylan record, and Jasper is sleeping because he isn’t due back to college yet.  Their lives are forever changed on 9/11.  Only acquaintances before that  day, Claire and Peter go to the same high school.  Peter and Jasper are supposed to go on their first date on the night of September 11th.  Their lives become intertwined like so many New Yorkers that day.  As they work through their individual grief, anger, and hope, they grow closer to each other.  What begins as nothing more than friendly hellos before the Towers fell becomes a deep-seeded friendship and love.  

This isn’t a typical YA book.  The plot doesn’t rise and fall, the climax is hard to pinpoint.  Instead, this is an emotional ride.  I identified most with Claire, but I saw pieces of myself in all three main characters.  I wasn’t in New York City on September 11th, but I shared many of the same experiences 35 miles away.  When Claire describes watching her high school classmates frantically call their parents from their cell phones, I pictured my floormate who walked past my door no less than 20 times in 2 minutes. She was trying to get ahold of her father, who worked in the Towers.  When Jasper logs onto the internet to search for more information instead of the same information over and over from the news anchors I remembered refreshing the internet constantly at my desk.  When Peter described the smoke and smell hanging over the city I remembered my mother telling me you could see the flames from the beach by our house, and that there was a huge cloud of smoke and a smell enveloping Middletown. And When Jasper started getting emails and IMs from classmates worried about his whereabouts I immediately remembered my high school network reaching out, getting in touch with everyone in NY, Washington, DC, and Maryland.  Repeatedly I found myself crying while reading Love Is the Higher Law.

I don’t think I can ever put into words what that day and the ensuing weeks felt like.  The complete despondency and hopelessness felt by so many.  The feelings of compassion and unity that brought strangers together.  The hope that grew and blossomed.  And the feelings of confusion and loss felt by so many when we declared war on Iraq.  9/11 altered my college experience but it brought us closer together.  Like Claire, Peter, and Jasper.

This is an amazing book and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to YA readers and adults.  Those who experienced 9/11 firsthand, in NY/NJ, will immediately connect with this book.  But it will also open up a window into that world for teens who weren’t near the city that day.  Definitely add this to your YA collections.  David Levithan has written a somber yet hopeful story that will echo for decades to come.  I wouldn’t hesitate to hand this to my own children someday to share what my experience was like that day.



Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Adult Book News!

I rarely post about the adult book world here because I’m always deeply entrenched in middle grade and YA books.  However, I can’t pass up the opportunity to brag about a high school classmate’s book deal!  (I went to a tiny, magnet-like high school for science and technology, so this is very exciting for a reader/writer like me).

Janet Silver’s rookie season as a literary agent with Zachary Shuster Harmsworth continues, as the former editor and publisher has sold a book to Doubleday about artificial intelligence and the human mind by 24-year-old Brown grad Brian Christian.

The book will follow Mr. Christian’s efforts to “train” for the 2009 Loebner Prize, an annual competition to be held in September that aims to instantiate the Turing Test by asking judges to interact with a set of human beings and computers and then deduce which is which. (Mr. Christian will be one of the humans.) The grand prize is awarded to whoever builds the computer least easily distinguishable from a human being in its ability to respond to the judges’ prompts.

A separate prize honors the person whose responses are most often taken as human by judges. This is the prize that Mr. Christian is going for.



Congratulations, Brian!  Can’t wait to read the book! 


Jarret J. Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady Graphic Novels

I’m always on the lookout for graphic novels that appeal to boys as much as the Babymouse series appeals to girls. The Babymouse series never fails to hook a few dormant or struggling readers at the beginning of the year, but they are usually girls. Something about all that pink makes it a hard sell for 6th grade boys. But I think I found my series- Lunch Lady by Jarret K. Krosoczka!

In the first book, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, we meet the “breakfast bunch” (Hector, Dee, and Terrence). Like most kids in the early intermediate grades, they are curious about the school lunch lady. What exactly does she do when she isn’t serving them lunch? I remember being in school and wondering about the “real life” of school workers. Well, the breakfast bunch decide to follow her one day to see what her life is like outside the cafeteria walls.

While the kids decide to follow the Lunch Lady, she and her pals begin to suspect the new substitute teacher, Mr. Pasteur, is up to good. When he refuses fresh baked cookies it only firms up their suspicions. In fact, he doesn’t eat anything. The ladies decide to follow him home – not knowing that they themselves are being followed by the breakfast bunch!

In the second book, Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians, we meet a cranky school librarian and her evil cronies bent on destroying video games! When the breakfast bunch and the Lunch Lady crew get wind of the plan, they set out to stop the League of Librarians! Can they do it, or will video games be destroyed in favor of reading?!

I have to say, I laughed out loud at both books. I enjoyed Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians the most because the librarians were hysterical. Some of the jokes might go over the heads of younger readers, like the librarian demanding to be called a media specialist instead of librarian. Regardless, it is very funny. Plus, the lunch lady comes up with a great compromise between reading and video games- everyone is a winner here.

I think this is a series that will appeal to boys who love graphic novels or need a series to really “hook” them into reading. It’s silly but the plot is fun and easy to relate to, being set in a school. The bright yellow color on each page reminds me of the pink used in the Babymouse series but more gender neutral. I think these would be a great lead-in to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  I definitely plan to add these books to my library and I think they will be a big hit with boys and girls!

I imagine these books are going to blow up when the movie comes out.  Did you know Amy Poehler will be starring in the movie?  How cool is that?  I can totally picture her as the Lunch Lady!



Review copy courtesy of publisher

Cirque du Freak Trailer!

Finally, the trailer for Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant has been released!  I hope my students catch it…they are going to be thrilled.  The movie actually looks better than I expected.

Click here to watch!

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

I absolutely adored The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  I put off reading this for way too long and wish I had read it back in May, so I could have recommended it to my students!  

Calpurnia Virginia Tate, or Callie Vee for short, is the lone girl amongst six brothers.  The year is 1899, and girls aren’t expected to have careers when they grow up.  But Callie loves exploring, learning about nature, and spending time with her grandfather.  What she doesn’t love is knitting, cooking, and all other “household” activities.  She wants to be a scientist when she grows up, and Grandfather encourages her.  Together, they explore the countryside  as Callie learns about the scientific method and growing up.

There is so much to love about this book.  It’s historical fiction that kids will actually enjoy!  There are great little tidbits about the turn of the century- kids will love the idea that Coke was invented and wasn’t always around.  It’s also the time when automobiles were invented, science was on the brink of so many discoveries, and it was the turn of the century.  The setting is ridiculously real- you can almost feel the suffocating heat in a time before air-conditioning.  But it’s the character’s that really drive the story.

Callie reminded me a bit of Anne Shirley, of Anne of Green Gables . She’s spunky in a believable sort of way, intelligent, and self-deprecating. Her family is also well-developed, with six brothers, a mother, father, and Grandfather. One of my favorite chapters involves Callie’s utter horror when she learns that three of her brothers have developed crushes on her best friend. As the oldest of six kids, I felt Callie’s pain. Especially when she finally can’t take it anymore and divides up the days of the week, allowing each boy one day to walk her and Lula home. When they ask about the other two days of the week she tells them she needs her space! I was laughing out loud.

Pick this one up for your classroom library, but be sure to read it first. You’ll love it! This is a great pick for strong intermediate readers or middle schoolers. But I loved it even more than my students, I think! I especially can’t wait to share it with my new classes when we begin our monarch butterfly unit. I think Callie’s love of nature and science will really spark something in them, too!

This one is getting a lot of Newbery buzz, so read it now!



Purchased by me.