The Countdown Begins!

Tonight at midnight Pacific time (October 1) the nominations for the Cybils will open! If you haven’t checked out the website lately, you MUST go visit. There is an awesome new form this year to make nominating titles easier. No more sifting through pages of comments before nominating your choice.  Yay!  Plus, many of the categories have their panelists posted already and there area few more to come in the days ahead.

I’m getting ready to nominate my favorite titles….are you?


Hot Books in My Middle School Classroom

Now that school is back in session and I am getting to know my new students as readers, it’s time for this year’s first installment of “Hot Books in My Middle School Classroom”.

I have 100 students this year so their reading choices are varied.  It’s been a lot of fun to sit down and talk with them about how they chose their books and what makes them want to continue reading them.  Some of the most popular choices right now?

  • Skeleton Creek is my go-to choice for dormant readers.  Fast-paced, similar style to the oh-so-popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and online videos mean it immediately peaks their interest.  My two classroom library copies are being passed around as we speak and both boys and girls are reading the series.
  • Another popular series for my dormant readers?Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1) by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I love, love, love handselling this one. It’s a great sci-fi series for kids who are otherwise intimidated by the tomes of science fiction in most libraries. And talk about a gateway series- most of the students go on to read the rest of Haddix’s books during the year. I already have a handful reading Found (The Missing, Book 1).
  • You know what book has done very well for itself since getting a cover makeover? The Wednesday Wars. Since the paperback re-cover was done, my kids are eating this one up. A few students are reading this one and a bunch more placed orders for it in the September Scholastic Book Clubs.

To give you a small glimpse into my classroom, here are a few more books that were ordered via Scholastic this month.
Make Lemonade
The Hunger Games

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner

I am always looking for that quintessential middle school novel.  You know, the one that isn’t too old or too babyish for my 6th graders.  While plenty of my students love to read YA and are more than prepared for it, I also have many who just want a book about a kid like them.  My students are fabulous at self-censoring and know when a book is just right for them.  A few time this week I have had some of my girls put a book back on the shelf after a few pages saying, “This book is too old for me so I am going to try something else.”

Inevitably when I ask them what they are in the mood for they tell me “A book about a kid in middle school, going through regular middle school stuff.  A main character like me.”

Kate Messner’s The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. is that book and I can’t wait to pass it on to my students!

Don’t misunderstand me- this isn’t some fluffy novel.  Messner deals with some heavy subjects in the novel, but they are issues many of my students deal with on a daily basis.

Gianna is a cross-country runner, a gifted artist, and a free spirit.  She doesn’t do very well with deadlines so when her science teacher gives the class a month to complete a leaf identification she procrastinates.  When the two week deadline approaches and Gianna has very little done she learns that she won’t be able to run in the cross-country sectionals if the project isn’t completed and handed in by the end of the school day on the due date.  Even worse, glittery mean girl Bianca will get to run in her place!

Gianna has the best of intentions.  She means to finish the project on time but life keeps getting in the way.  Her best friend Zig is starting to show interest in her as a little more than just a friend. Family obligations keep popping up left and right, like going to the Italian market in Montreal.  Her father is a mortician, and she has to comfort a classmate who has just lost her grandmother.  Calling hours are held at the house, causing even more of a distraction.  Plus, Gianna’s mom is her exact opposite- organized, a health-nut, and sort of Type-A.

The story follows Gianna through one particularly tumultuous week in her life.  While she should be working in her leaf project she is overwhelmed by her grandma Nonna’s forgetfulness.  Her mother’s refusal to discuss Nonna’s forgetfulness puts a lot of pressure on Gianna, as she is particularly close to Nonna.

I loved this book!  I think girls especially will connect with Gianna.  She isn’t perfect but she is real.  Her imperfections reminded me of a lot of the students I teach every year.  She wants to do well in school but is easily distracted.  However, she is so smart- her interpretation of Robert Frost’s Birches is brilliant and spot-on.  But she doesn’t hand it in, because she thinks it’s not what the teacher wants to hear.  (I was so frustrated by her at that point!)

What really hit home for me was Gianna’s relationship with Nonna.  Nonna’s early symptoms of Alzheimer’s broke my heart.  I’m not too proud to admit I cried more than once toward the end of the book.  But too many of my students are dealing with similar issues and I am so happy to find a book that voices the whirlwind of emotions they are feeling.

And as an English teacher, I love the repeated references to Robert Frost’s poem, “Birches“. I especially love that the poem is not only referenced and quoted numerous times, but that it is also thoughtfully discussed throughout the book. What a great introduction to Frost this will serve as for many middle grade readers!

It’s obvious Messner deals with middle schoolers on a daily basis because her characterizations are spot-on.  I highly recommend The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. to all classroom and school libraries.  And attention teachers- this would make a fantastic read-aloud!

*Note- I have never met Kate Messner, but we are Twitter friends and I follow her blog.  We have a lot in common as we both teach middle school Language Arts/English and I’ve always enjoyed her online writing.

*ARC received from publisher at BEA

Creating Lifelong Readers

This week I touched base with a former student whom I taught two years ago.  When I met her, she was a nonreader.  In fact, I think the words, “Reading is boring” came up more than once on her beginning of the year literacy profile.  I worked very hard that year to help her find her niche and books she liked.  We started with some easy books and she would only read those related to fashion in some way.  Slowly but surely we built up a rapport.  She read every fashion related book I could get my hands on.   By the end of the year she was a reader.  We made a summer reading plan and she had a page-long list of books she was looking forward to reading.

I had done all I could- I sent her off to middle school and crossed my fingers that the AR reading requirements wouldn’t turn her off to reading.  A few months later she contacted me via email, asking for more book recommendations.  She even shared some recommendations with me!  She was struggling with AR  a bit, but we managed to find some titles she enjoyed.  She was also reading non-required books and becoming even more of a reader.

Now, she is in 8th grade.  We spoke the other day and after exchanged pleasantries she asked for some book recommendations.

“Well, what kind of book do you feel like reading?  Are you still into realistic fiction?” I asked.

“You tell me, Miss M. I can and do read everything now!”

Music to my ears!

A lifelong reader has been born.  Two years after leaving my classroom and she is reading even more than she did in 6th grade.  And she no longer sticks to just one genre.  She reads from lots of genres and authors! It’s every teacher’s dream. 🙂

Oh, and my recommendations? The Hunger Games, Chains, What I Saw And How I Lied, and When You Reach Me.

National Standards

The Common Core State Standards Initiative released its first draft of college and career readiness standards in Language Arts (and Math). You have a chance to offer your feedback on the proposed common standards  until October 21st.

The Cybils are Coming, The Cybils are Coming!

October 1st marks the beginning of the nomination period for the Cybil Awards!

For those who aren’t familiar with them:

The Cybils Awards, or Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards, are a series of book awards given by children’s and young adult book bloggers[1]. Co-founded by Kelly Herold and Anne Boles Levy in 2006[2], the awards were created to address an apparent gap between children’s book awards perceived as too elitist and other awards that did not seem selective enough.[3]

Books are nominated by the public in nine genres of children’s and young adult literature: Easy Readers, FantasyScience Fiction, Fiction Picture BooksGraphic Novels, Middle Grade Novels, Non-Fiction Middle Grade/Young Adult Books, Non-Fiction Picture Books,Poetry, and Young Adult Novels. Nominees go through two rounds of panel-based judging before a winner is announced in each category. Finalists and winners are selected on the basis of literary merit and kid appeal.[4]


Start making your lists and decide what you want to nominate in each category.  This is your chance to participate in the process.  6a00d83451b06869e20120a5c50dc5970c-200wi-1

Nancie Atwell Responds to Choice in Reading Workshop

You must, must, must watch this video.  Nancie Atwell responds to the recent NY Times article regarding Reading Workshop.  I found myself wanting to shout, “Yes, yes, yes! You go, girl!” while Nancie spoke.

This video should be mandatory for all parents, teachers, administrators, and school officials.

BBAW Interview!

Last year I somehow managed to miss all the buzz about Book Blogger Appreciation Week.  I promised myself I would be involved this year so I immediately jumped at the opportunity to participate in the BBAW interviews.

I was able to interview Daphne at Tanzanite’s Shelf and Stuff.  She is so sweet and I already added her blog to my reader. 🙂

How long have you been blogging and what inspired you to start?

I started my blog almost three years ago.  One of the biggest problems I had when I was in school was that I would quickly forget what I had read and when I started reading again in early 2006, I was finding I had the same problem.  I started thinking about different ways that I could keep track of what I had read and I what I thought about each one.  I played around with an Access Database for awhile, but it wasn’t really working out that well.  Several people at one of the online book forums I participated in had blogs and I really enjoyed reading them.  After about 6 months, I decided “I could do that” and started my own blog.

What is your favorite book of all time?

That is a really hard question.  I did not read much after my daughter was born and I finished my post undergraduate degree.  For about 15 years, between family and work, there just really wasn’t much time so my reading life really has two distinct parts.  I honestly can not remember what my younger self’s favorite book was although I remember being especially fond of The Little House on the Prairie series.  My current reading choices are pretty much limited to historical fiction and history related non-fiction books (I always loved history in school and at one point considered becoming a history teacher).  As of now, my favorite book is Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman.

Has blogging introduced you to any new authors or books that you might not otherwise have read?

In the beginning, I would say yes.  As I discovered more and more blogs I discovered more and more authors.  But since my reading interests are so focused, by now I have a pretty good grasp on what’s out there as well as on out of print authors.  Occasionally I’ll run across one I haven’t heard of before, but it’s becoming less and less frequent.

Did you like to read as a child? Did you have a favorite book or author?
I loved to read as a child.  Before I could read myself my mom would spend hours a day reading to me and I had piles and piles of books (kind of like now!).  One of her favorite stories about me is that I had convinced myself at an early age that I could actually read – what I had really done was memorized the words that went with the pictures – but I would sit and “read” outloud to myself.  I read constantly through elementary and middle school; less so in high school and college.  When I was a kid, I especially loved the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Nancy Drew books and A Wrinkle in Time.

How many books are on your TBR pile?

I own over 200 books that I have not read yet.  This doesn’t include the approximately 100+ books on my wish list at Paperback Swap and even more on Amazon and the post it notes I keep in a journal type book.

Are you a cover-judger? Or do you use another method for choosing books?

I do have a weakness for book covers (I’m an admitted cover slut!) and I even have another blog devoted to historical fiction book covers.  As far as choosing books to read, I have a spreadsheet which lists all of the books I own (as well as a few books I can get from the library) which sets out the order in which I plan on reading them.  When I get new books they are added into the spreadsheet at an appropriate place.  I try not to read books about the same person/era too close to together, except that I will read a non-fiction book immediately after a related fiction one.

Obviously blogging is a hobby of yours. What are some of your other hobbies?

Reading!  I also like to travel (wish I could do it more) and spending time with my husband.  We recently moved to another state and our daughter stayed behind to go to college so we have a lot more time on our hands to do things we want to do and a great new state to explore!

What is your day job?

I’m a manager in a government human services agency.

Thanks so much, Daphne!  It’s been great getting to know you.


I don’t usually recommend music, but I have to do it tonight.  For anyone out there with kids or who teaches in elementary school- you MUST get this album!  I know a lot of teachers play music in the classroom so I have to share it with you.

The Flannery Brothers Love Songs for Silly Things is hysterical, fun, and great for all ages. It’s kids music that won’t drive adults insane. In fact, I’ve had a few of the songs happily stuck in my head for the past few days. The songs are intelligent and don’t talk down to kids.

You can get the album on Amazon or from itunes (link below). Give it a listen. I guarantee you will fall in love!

My personal favorite song is Broccoli Yet.  🙂

I’ve known Dan Flannery since high school and his brother, Mike, also went to my high school.  But I would recommend the album regardless. It’s that good!

Never Forget

(A version of this was originally written on 9/11/03, in my personal journal. It has been edited for this posting. I have reposted it every year since 2003.)

the view I see each year from the beach at home.

I can’t forget. This morning, between classes I was sitting in my car listening to the radio. I listened to the children read off the names of those who perished in the WTC disaster. As I listened to the small voices read the thousands of names, tears ran down my cheeks. I managed to miss hearing the names of anyone I knew, but still…….

I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember eating breakfast with Erin (we barely even knew each other at the time). The dining hall had talk radio playing over the speakers and they were talking about the WTC bombing. I remember Erin and I wondering why they were talking about something that had happened in 1993. We tuned out the radio as it became nothing more than white noise in the background. We finished breakfast and I went to my Women and Public Policy class.

As my classmates settled into our seats in the small lecture hall our TA, Jen, apologized for having to keep her cell phone on during class. She explained that she had flight reservations later that day, and she needed to keep up on any airport delays due to the incident in the city. That was the first that I heard about a plane crash. But everyone in class seemed fairly calm. We talked about what had happened for a few minutes, but most of us assumed it was just an errant pilot, a tragedy, but still. So from 9:50-10:30am we continued on with our normal class schedule. As class ended I remember walking back, over the Hickman bridge, and hearing people around me say classes were canceled for the rest of the day. Yet I still really had no idea what was going on.

I walked back to my dorm on the other side of campus planning to turn on the news while I got organized for the day. Then I remembered that I didn’t even have a tv (stupid no cable). As i walked into the building, you could sense the panic. The stress and tension in the air was palpable I walked up the 3 flights of stairs to my room and immediately saw that my answering machine was blinking wildly. Each message was from my mother, trying desperately to get in touch with me. I grabbed my cell phone to call her back, but by that time the lines were down, and you couldn’t get through on cell phones.

As I kept hitting the redial button I watched my floormates pace up and down the halls. One of my floormates 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. Others were just trying to find their parents even if they didn’t work in the city. I walked back downstairs to the lounge and sat on the couch with my dormmates, staring at the images that were being flashed on every station on our TV. No one spoke.

Still dialing, I headed back upstairs to my computer, sure that I would be able to find more information on the internet. The news anchors were so unsure and so frightened. I finally got through to my mother (while reloading over and over) and she was relieved to hear from me. She told 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. She asked if I wanted to come home, and while I considered it I chose to stay.

The panic in my dorm just increased all afternoon. My friends and I sat in stunned silence watching the television coverage. At one point, military planes flew over the campus, and people ran for the basement. No one knew what would happen next. That sense of terror was something unimaginable only hours before.

We watched the news for hours on end. I IM’ed and recieved IMs from friends who were at school in the city. People I hadn’t talked to in months came to mind. I went to an tiny high school, 60 kids to a graduating class, and our network of students was reaching out to one another. We just needed to know that everyone was all right. I remember the anxiety we felt when we checked on all the Maryland people, friends who went to school near the Pentagon and Washington, DC. Eighteen years old and we were frantically searching for people just to make sure they were still there.
I will never forget signing on to our high school BBS and reading the the public announcements, a forum usually reserved for messages about upcoming school dances and PTA fundraisers. The message on top was from a fellow Techer. Her dad was supposed to be on Flight 93. Reading that message, as she begged anyone reading it to look for his name on ANY list, my heart sank. This was a classmate, a high schooler. She should not have been going through this. And the tragedy began to hit home. As new lists were posted it became more and more apparent that he had probably been on the plane.

Only a few minutes later my mother got through to me again, telling me that my brother’s best friend’s dad was missing. That’s when I made the decision. I went home.
I stayed home for a few days. School was canceled for days. The next few days were filled with phone calls “Did anyone hear anything? Any word?” My mother told how on Sept. 11, ferries came from the city to the local harbor. Ferries that were based all over NY just packed with passengers from anywhere in NJ. People who just had to get somewhere besides Manhattan. They stumbled off the boats- people covered in ash, people in shock. They were hosed down immediately by men and women in hazmat suits, for fear that they were carrying biological agents.

The papers talked about how Middletown was the town in NJ hit the hardest by the tragedy. We lost so many. So many people from my church, people I knew from middle school and high school.
Then, my worst fears were realized. A friend was put on active duty. Along with all this tragedy, I had to deal with the idea that one of my best friends could be sent into the city. Thankfully, he never was.
I learned that another friend had worked at the pier in Jersey City on September 11. Unloading and loading ferries and boats, for days at a time. But her story had a happy ending- she became engaged when she grew closer to a friend who took care of her at the time.
My brother spent days with his girlfriend and their best friend. A sophomore in high school and he was trying to hold up his friends while they learned that the man they loved was never coming home. I admired my brother immensely for the strength he showed in those days. He grew up more than I ever knew he could.

We all grew up.

And we will never forget.
God Bless all those lost on 9-11-01……