I took the plunge…..last night I signed up for NaNoWriMo. Am I crazy? Maybe. But I’m excited! I have no idea what I will be writing but I plan to give it my best shot. I also have some of my students working on the Young Writer’s NaNoWriMo as part of their independent writing projects.

I’m also excited about a pretty cool contest running in conjunction with NaNoWriMo.  Here comes the press release!


Get in Front of Top YA Editors and Agents with

ONLY the First 250 Words of Your YA Novel!

Have a young adult novel—or a YA novel idea—tucked away for a rainy day? Are you putting off pitching your idea simply because you’re not sure how to pitch an agent? No problem! All you have to do is submit the first 250 words of your novel and you can win both exposure to editors, and a one-on-one chat with one of New York’s TOP literary agents Regina Brooks.


Regina Brooks is the founder of Serendipity Literary Agency and the author of Writing Great Books for Young Adults. Brooks has been instrumental at establishing and building the careers of many YA writers, including three-time National Book Award Honoree and Michael Printz Honoree Marilyn Nelson, as well as Sundee Frazier—a Coretta Scott King Award winner, an Oprah Book Pick and an Al Roker book club selection. As an agent, she is known for her ability to turn raw talent into successful authors.


ADDITIONALLY: The top 20 submissions will all be read by a panel of five judges comprised of top YA editors at Random HouseHarperCollins, Harlequin, Sourcebooks and Penguin. All 20 will receive free autographed copies of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks. Of the 20, they will pick the top five submissions and provide each author with commentaryand a one year subscription to The Writer magazine. ONE Grand Prize Winner will have the opportunity to get feedback on a full YA manuscript and win a free 10-week writing course courtesy of the Gotham Writer’s Workshop.


Please submit all entries via the contest website at One entry per person; anyone age 13+ can apply. Open to the U.S. & Canada (void where prohibited). Entries for the YA Novel Discovery Contest will be accepted from 12:01am (ET) November 1 until 11:59pm (ET), November 30.



In honor of National Novel Writing Month (—an international event where aspiring novelists are encouraged to write an entire novel in 30 days—this contest is meant to encourage the aspiring YA author to get started on that novel by offering an incentive for completing the first 250 words.


So apply now!



YA literary agent Regina Brooks, along with editors at Sourcebooks, will read all of the entries and determine the top 20 submissions. These submissions will then be read by Dan Ehrenhaft, head Acquisitions Editor at Soucebooks Fire; Alisha Niehaus, Editor at Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin); David Linker, Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books; Michele Burke, Editor at Knopf Books for Young Readers (Random House); and Evette Porter, Editor at Harlequin. These judges will whittle the top 20 down to four winners and a grand prize winner—all five will be provided commentary on their submissions.


What a great opportunity!  I’m sure my first 250 words will be far from great, but I plan to enter just for the fun of it.  You should, too!


Update on My Daily Schedule

As many of you know, my schedule was turned upside down this year.  Instead of teaching two classes for 2 hr blocks of time, I now teach 4 classes for 50 minutes each.  I also went from having 50 students to over 100.

Needless to day, it’s been a rough adjustment.  I tried teaching all four classes the same concept each day but I quickly felt like I was losing my mind.  It was too difficult to remember what I said or did in each class and by 8th period I found myself constantly asking the class, “Did I already mention this?  Did we do this?”

It just didn’t work.

I then switched my schedule around and made the decision to teach reading to my first two classes and writing to my third and fourth classes of the day, alternating every three days.  This way, I teach 2 lessons each day and I keep my sanity.  It also allows me to see what works and what doesn’t, making adjustments that day and also for the next set of classes, 3 days later.  I’ve found myself making a lot of adjustments on the fly, to individualize for each class.  With close to 30 students in most classes, it’s a lot.  I have been grading a lot more and devoting a lot more of my own time to assessment and grading.  Not a lot of fun!

On the plus side, I do love my students.  We are currently reading Tuck Everlasting and learning how to annotate text. I love pushing their thinking and holding them to my extremely high expectations. In writing, we just began personal essays, one of my favorite units of study. I am loving the variety of each day and the fact that I am not constantly teaching the same thing.

I am including my read-aloud each day. We usually read to begin each period (though in one class, we conclude the lesson by reading). I read for between 10-15 minutes each day and have only missed a few days since school started. We finished When You Reach Me and are currently reading Also Known As Harper. I do find myself going a little crazy some days, reading the same parts of the book out loud over and over, but I find that each class moves at its own pace so I rarely repeat in a day.

I do admit, I am struggling with independent reading. I begin each class with independent reading, in place of the typical do-now. That usually gives me students between 5-7 minutes of independent reading. And on reading days they almost always read independently during their active participation. But on writing days I struggle to get reading in. I find myself encouraging the kids to “steal” a minute of reading whenever they finish their work or have nothing else to do. While I wish I had more time to devote to independent reading what I am doing seems to be working so far. The kids are reading and I got a lot of positive feedback at conferences. It just bugs me because I know they could be doing even more if I had the minutes to devote to reading.

Eighty or ninety minutes. That would be perfect for Language Arts. I feel like I would be able to get so much more done if I had an hour and a half of language arts instead of 50 minutes. And I want fewer students. It’s overwhelming right now and I find myself tempted to change assignments and assessments so that they won’t take me hours upon hours to grade.

But so far, I’m making the best of it and my students seem to be handling it well. It just frustrates me when I look at the work I would have gotten done up to this point with more time in the day. I’m weeks behind in my plans from last year. But we do what we can, right?

Webcast with Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough

Tomorrow evening Stenhouse will be hosting a live webcast with Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough – their new book is out and it’s called A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades.  The book is available for preview in its entirety on our website.  I’m almost finished reading it and it’s wonderful!  The activities are geared toward the primary grades but can definitely be modified and used in the upper grades.  I am looking forward to using some of the activities in my classes this year.

The webcast is tomorrow, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. EST. All participants need is a phone and a computer – no special equipment of software. You can direct all inquiries to Zsofia:

If you are interested, send Zsofia and email by tomorrow morning!

Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur

Aubrey is alone, but no one can find out. She goes about her day pretending that her mother hasn’t abandoned her without warning.  She puts on disguises to go food shopping and doesn’t answer the phone.  Eleven years old, she is dealing with issues far beyond her young age.

The best word to describe Love, Aubrey is bittersweet. Aubrey’s father and younger sister died in a car crash and her mother shut down after losing them.  Now, she has left Aubrey without warning.  When Aubrey’s grandmother shows up and offers to take her back to Vermont to live, Aubrey isn’t sure she wants to go.  Starting over is never easy and life hasn’t been good to Aubrey lately.  But as she settles slowly into a new life, she gains a best friend and supportive family.  However, she still doesn’t know how to deal with her own grief and confusion.  Aubrey writes letters to an imaginary friend, keeping her close to her baby sister,Savannah, and helping her deal with her feelings. Supported by her grandmother, new friends and school counselor, Aubrey learns to move on and build a new life.  And when her mother comes back into her life, she is able to make the difficult choice presented to her- stay in Vermont or move back home with Mom in Virginia.

Love, Aubrey is a book I couldn’t put down.  It easily could have been overdone and miserable; instead, LaFleur has crafted a powerful story about grief and loss.  At times funny, heartbreaking, and poignant, Love, Aubrey is a phenomenal story.  I found myself racing through the book, stopping only wipe tears from my eyes or to get more tissues.  A perfect novel for middle grade readers, this is also a story adults and teens will enjoy.  I already have a handful of students who have read the book and all of them commented that they couldn’t put it down.  And they loved it as much as I did!

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Lit Drift for

I am thrilled to share the following press release:

Lit Drift is  a brand-spanking new blog, resource, and community for young adults dedicated
to the art & craft of fiction in the 21st century.

Besides editorial content, we’ve got daily creative prompts, daily short
stories, and a weekly free book giveaway called Free Book Friday. This week,
we’re giving away a copy of Couch by Benjamin Parzybok. We also accept
reader submissions-if you or your readers would like to contribute anything
from fiction to photography to mixtapes, we’d be happy to showcase it on our

The site is free to use, no sign-up required, no strings attached. We just
genuinely want to get more teens and adults reading and telling stories-and
to have a blast doing it.

I browsed the site today and it looks like a lot of fun.  The writing prompt made me laugh and I think teens and young adults will really connect with LitDrift!

National Day on Writing!

Today is National Day on Writing!  Make sure you make your way over to NCTE’s Gallery of Writing and check out the amazing work that is published there.  I finally submitted my piece to the Kidlitopshere’s gallery, so what are you waiting for?

Lego Star Wars Visual Dictionary

The following is a guest review by my fiance’, a huge Lego fan.

I reviewed LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary by Simon Beecroft. I was very excited to review the book when Sarah received it in the mail because I am fan of Legos and Star Wars. The book seemed to be written just for me! And as a bonus, the book includes a free mini figure and that immediately won me over.

LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary is a chronicling of all the Star Wars sets Lego has issued to date. It is especially written for Lego fans and collectors. It goes into detail to show the differences between sets issued in 1999 and say 2008, for example. It made me appreciate the sets Lego has created for the Star Wars universe. The text of the book gives a summary of the different aspects of the movies ad Star Wars lore, including the Death Star and the Rebel Army.

I would recommend this book to Lego fans and collectors of the Lego Star Wars memorabilia. However, it does lack real insight that pure Star Wars fans would be looking for. I do think kids would love this book, though!

Hot Books at the Book Fair

Today I visited the Scholastic Book Fair with all four of my classes.  I loved having that time to booktalk, browse, and help them find great books.  Want to know what the hottest titles were?

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) was completely sold-out thanks to my classes. My favorite? When one of my students walked in, picked up Catching Fire, paid, and proceeded to walk around the rest of the book fair with his head buried in the book. Amazing.

Almost as popular was Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. While most of my students had pre-ordered their copy through Scholastic’s book clubs, there were a few hold-outs who picked it up today. Many students also picked up the rest of the series. By the end of the day, the entire series was wiped out!

I have a lot of students this year who love, love, love scary stories. Because of this, Mary Downing Hahn was very popular. The most popular choice? All the Lovely Bad Ones. Many of my students added that one to their collections. And coming in a close second was Avi’s The Seer of Shadows. I haven’t read The Seer of Shadows but am looking forward to it now.

I also had a lot of students who bought A Curse Dark as Gold, which made me happy. Fairy tale retellings are always popular and I was happy to see them choosing such a well-written novel.

One novel that was very popular but that I wasn’t familiar with was Malice. Let me tell you- coolest 3D cover EVER! Two of my boys purchased it and are already halfway through. It’s a combination comic book/novel. Very awesome!

It was a lot of fun spending the day choosing books with my students, because I don’t always have the time I wish I could to booktalk individually. Today I was able to personally talk to all 100 of my students about their book selection.


You only have a few more days to nominate books for the Cybil Awards!  If you haven’t done so yet, make your way over to the nominating form and get going.

Not sure what the Cybils are?  Check this out from the Cybils website:

Our purpose is two-fold:

  • Reward the children’s and young adult authors (and illustrators, let’s not forget them) whose books combine the highest literary merit and “kid appeal.” What’s that mean? If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussel sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.
  • Foster a sense of community among bloggers who write about children’s and YA literature, highlight our best reviewers (and shamelessly promote their blogs) and provide a forum for the similarly obsessed.

We wouldn’t be a real awards if we didn’t have a whole bunch of complicated rules in tortured lawyerese. So maybe we’re not a real awards, because there aren’t any lawyers and only two rules:

  1. You (and you can be anybody, even you) may nominate any book published in the contest year in English;
  2. Only one book per category. We have ways of checking this, so play nice. Nominations open Oct. 1 and close Oct. 15.

After that, here’s what happens:

  • We place all the authors names into a hat and pass our magic wand over it. After the rabbit pops out, we eat him and announce the winner, whom we have selected at random;
  • Not really! Just testing you. We have panelists in each category who eat the rabbit. No, er, they read the books. They have until January 1 for that, which we hope and pray will be enough time. On Jan. 1 we’ll post the finalists;
  • From Jan. 1 to mid-February, a second group of judges will read all the finalists and pick the winners, which we’ll announce on Valentine’s Day.

See? Easy. And no actual rabbits will be harmed in the process.

To contact us:

Anne Levy, Contest Administrator:
cybils09 (at) gmail (dot) com

Kelly Herold, Director (on hiatus for 2009-10 season):
kidslitinfo (at) gmail (dot) com

Dessert First by Hallie Durand

Hallie Durand’s Dessert First is an adorable early middle grade novel about a spunky third-grader named Dessert. Now, who among us hasn’t been tempted to eat dessert first when sitting down for a meal? When Dessert’s new teacher, Mrs. Howdy Doody tells her class to march to the beat of their own drummer, Dessert decides that she will eat dessert first from now on. She is even able to convince her family to join her in her new endeavor. But when she succumbs to temptation and secretly eats an entire box of her mother’s Double-decker Chocolate Bars, she is overcome with guilt. Even worse, it turns out that those rare treats were made to celebrate the life and birthday of her grandmother, who has passed away.

Dessert reminded me a lot of another fun early middle grade character- Clementine. She’s spunky, spirited, happy, and even a little “fresh” at times. Even better? She’s real! She reminded me a lot of the 3rd graders I student taught a few years ago- smarter than most adults give them credit for. Plus, readers will identify with her. Who among us hasn’t tried to be unique and only ended up getting in trouble in the process?

Oh, and I love, love, love the cover! The bakery string is a wonderful detail and has me craving some treats.

Highly recommended for elementary libraries.
*ARC copy courtesy of Kathi Appelt