Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays

Last year was the first installment of my Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays.  I’m very excited to bring it back again, updated, for this year!  You can check out last year’s posts here.

Unfortunately, many tweens and middle schoolers are blank slates when it comes to reading.  For the next few weeks I will be posting lists to help you find that perfect book or book gift for the 10-13 year old in your life, whether they are an avid reader or dormant readers.  Lists will be categorized according to trends I see in my classroom, so you can count on the fact that the books I recommend will be kid-tested and approved.

Give the tweens in your life the gift of reading.  A book is a gift you can open again and again, and it does not have to be an expensive gift.  What other gift will take tweens to new places, back in time, or away from their world?  For approximately ten dollars, you can do all that for the tweens in your life by wrapping a book and giving it to them for the holidays.

Check back here starting December 1st for the first installment of  my Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays 2009!


English Companion Ning

I love the English Companion Ning. I always learn so much when I stop by and I have a great time when I follow along with their book clubs.  Right now, the Ning has almost 10,000 members so it is a great way to reach out and network with other Language Arts/English teachers.  I think of it as my own personal learning network with personalized professional development.


Unfamiliar with a Ning?  It works a lot like a traditional message board and is easy to navigate.  You simply register and then explore!  The English Companion Ning has forums, blogs, groups, and book clubs.  I love following the conversations in the forum, the ideas in the book clubs, and the camaraderie of the groups.  If you aren’t a member yet I highly recommend it!

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French

Julian Carter-Li’s mother is following her photography dreams in China but that means she left him behind in San Francisco for the summer. Unfortunately, she left him with his aunt and uncle, who seem to hate him.  He does love his younger cousin, Preston, but he really wishes that his mom would come home sooner rather than later. His aunt and uncle are far from kind (and reminded me a little of the Dursleys!).  When the school calls to say Julian is sick, no one will pick him up!  His aunt sends a cab to take him to his uncle’s office, where he is left to lay on the couch til later that night.  However, while his Uncle Sibley is at a meeting, Julian intercepts an email from a girl his age, Robin, who is furious that Sibley will be clear cutting a redwood forest near her home.  Julian spontaneously responds to her and he and his friend, Danny, begin exchanging emails with her.  The boys and Robin come up with a scheme that helps Julian escape the dreaded math camp  he is being sent to and lands him an exchange with the Robin’s family. On their farm, he discovers the true meaning of family of the beauty of the redwood forest.

Before he realizes it, Julian is working against his uncle’s company to save the grove of old-growth redwood trees from the clear cutting Sibley has planned.

I really enjoyed this book.  It’s a good companion for Carl Hiassen’s eco-novels and I imagine it will really appeal to my middle schoolers.  Julian and his friends are in middle school themselves and their reactions and plans for the protest are very realistic.  I could imagine myself making the same decisions they did as a preteen.  Plus, who has not wanted to run away and live in a treehouse at some point in their life?

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher for the Cybils. All opinions are my own and not those of the panel as a whole.

Escape Under the Forever Sky by Eve Yohalem

I picked this book off my TBR pile because I could have sworn it was a middle grade Cybil nominee. Apparently, I have lost my mind (not a surprise if you know me) because it is not a nominee. However, it must have been fate because boy, am I glad I read Eve Yohalem’s gripping novel, Escape Under the Forever Sky!  I am always looking for great adventure novels to hand to my students and this one is perfect for middle grade readers. I finished it during reading workshop today and immediately handed it off to a student.

Thirteen-year old Lucy’s mom is the American ambassador to Ethiopia. At first, living in Africa sounds great to Lucy. She is a budding conservation biologist and dreams of spending her days on game drives and observing wildlife. Instead, she is practically held prisoner in the ambassador’s residence because her mother thinks the city and the country are too dangerous for Lucy to travel through. Instead, she is forced to go to boring state dinners and can only go on game drives every two weeks. So when she and her friends cut out of school to go to the city market, she knows she is asking for trouble. Her mother completely flips out when she catches Lucy in such a dangerous place and grounds her for a month. No game drives, no friends, no going out. Nothing but sitting on the verandah and sending sporadic emails to her friends.

Lucy is angry and resentful, so she plans an escape to a local coffee shop with her best friend Tana.  She even manages to send her “babysitter” home with the promise not to do anything stupid.  But when Lucy is kidnapped by Tana’s new driver, she realizes that her mother might have been right about the dangers she could face on her own.

Beaten and left to drink parasite-filled water, Lucy knows her only hope is to use her gymnastics training and her knowledge of the African bush to escape.  Otherwise, her kidnappers plan to kill her.  When she does manage to get away, she is alone and injured in the African wilderness and must avoid almost-certain death from a variety of means. I could not put this book down and found myself on the edge of my seat the entire time. Lucy is a normal 13 year old in an extraordinary situation. However, Yohalem makes it believable.

Readers will find themselves fascinated by the information about Africa and Ethiopia. I can see myself sharing with with adventure lovers and animal lovers alike. At a little more than 200 pages, this is a quick read that will keep students interested and on the edge of their seats. Highly recommended for classroom and school libraries!

This would also make a great read aloud because each chapter ends on a cliffhanger or leaves the reader wondering. The action-packed pages will keep even the most dormant reader’s attention and students will be left wanting to know more about Ethiopia and the African bush.


*Review copy purchased from Scholastic Book Clubs

NCTE 2009

Today was uplifting, inspiring, and outstanding. I regret that I did not go to all four days of NCTE and I definitely plan to go back the next time the convention is in the area. If you have not gone to NCTE you need to get there- it is unreal! (I do, however, regret having to get up at 4:30am to get into Philly by 7:45am)

My panel presented at 8:30am and I figured we would have no more than ten people, due to the early hour and the fact that it was the last day of the conference. Needless to say, I was shocked because we had close to 50 people attend! I had so much fun preaching about the merits of read alouds in the upper grades and I think I convinced a few audience members to give it a try.

For those of you who could not attend, I have attached my handouts below.

Please feel free to email me or comment if you have any questions!

Hot Books in My Middle School Classroom

It’s time for another edition of Hot Books in My Middle School Classroom!  Every month or so I like to share the books that are currently grabbing the attention of my sixth grade students.  We just received our latest Scholastic Book order and it was a packed box!

The The 39 Clues Books are extremely popular right now. I can not keep my copies on the shelf in our classroom library and now three students have purchased the boxed set offered by Scholastic. Some of them are reading the books while participating in the online game while others are just in in for the story. Regardless, I am constantly seeing one title or another in the series open on someone’s desk.

This month Scholastic offered Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me in the book clubs and a few students ordered their own copy to reread. When You Reach Me was a big hit as our class read aloud earlier this year so I was thrilled to see it resonate enough that students would want to reread their own copy.

There were orders for a few perennial favorites this month, too. Speak found a few new readers this month, along with the classic The Incredible Journey. I also had a few more orders for Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, from the last few students who did not yet order their copy.

I love to see what my students order because I sometimes learn about books I was not previously familiar with. For example, I had a student who recently ordered The Robe of Skulls: The First Tale from the Five Kingdoms (Tales from the Five Kingdoms), a fantasy book I have not read. Opening the box today, I was intrigued by the cover and just ordered a second copy for our classroom library. I also did the same with The Cupcake Queen, which might have the best cover ever!

Finally, informational books are always popular with my students. Recently, many of my students have been reading the Mythlopedia series from Scholastic. This month we had a few orders for the latest title in the series- She’s All That!: A Look-it-Up Guide to the Goddesses of Mythology (Mythlopedia). The books are set up to look like Facebook profiles and my students love them. I love them, too because they are a great way to share information about Greek mythology.

Those are just a few of the books that are popular in my classroom right now. What books are your students reading?

NaNoWriMo Status Update and Class Update!

We are officially halfway through November and I am more than halfway to my wordcount goal of 50,000….it’s all downhill from here so it should be easier.  🙂  I am thrilled because I have never reached 25,000 words before so this is huge!  Also, Scrivener is awesome and I totally give that program credit for a lot of my writing this November.  It’s made it so much easier to keep track of my plot, characters, and chapters.  I have also been using Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die almost every day and it has really kept me motivated.

On Thursday I met with a few of my NaNoWriMo students and was absolutely flabberghasted  by their progress.  Because we have less time together this year, I have been very hands-off in terms of NaNoWriMo.  They set their own wordcount goals, are working at home, and determined how much time they would devote to this optional project.  Forty six students signed up on October 30 and about half of them are still writing!  The ten that I met with on Thursday are doing an amazing job.  One already had ten chapters written, one already reached their 3000 word goal, and the rest are diligently working.  At one point, I turned around to find two writers comparing Wordles of their stories so far!  I was just thrilled.  We ended up printing out their Wordles and posting them on the wall next to our NaNoWriMo poster.

I plan to meet with a few more students this week and I can not wait to see what they have accomplished.  I highly encourage middle school teachers to use NaNoWriMo in the classroom because I am just thrilled with the results.  And we are only halfway through the month!

Come See Me at NCTE!

On Sunday, November 22nd I will be presenting at NCTE in Philadelphia.  I will be at the convention all day Sunday and I would love to meet up with any readers/blogging friends!  Leave a comment if you are around on Sunday.  🙂

Also, be sure to stop by my session if you will be around.

Session title:
Engaging Middle School Students through Read Alouds and a Focus on Process, Craft, and Genre

My Speech title:
‘Read to Me, Please! Why We Must Share Read-Alouds in the Middle School Classroom’

Location:  Marriott/Grand Ballroom Salon K, 5th Floor



Session time: Sunday, November 22, 2009 8:30:00 AM to 9:45:00 AM


Other presenters:   Laurie Stowell and Erika Daniels- Reading and Writing: Process, Genre, and Craft

Suzanne Porath- Beyond the Role Sheets: New Structures for Literature Discussion Groups

A Place for Wonder by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough

I rarely read books, especially professional books, aimed at the primary grades.  I often read those aimed at grades 3-5, but kindergarten is a good ways away from my 6th graders (even though there are days when they don’t feel that far apart in age!)

However, I absolutely love Georgia Heard so I knew I wanted to read A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades as soon as it was published. I use many of Heard’s ideas and resources in my poetry unit, so I knew her nonfiction ideas would be stellar. I was not wrong- this is a great book for any teacher interested in growing his/her students’s knowledge about writing nonfiction.

A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades discusses how to create a “landscape of wonder” in your classroom by sharing activities and anecdotes from Heard and McDonough (a 1st grade teacher). While the activities are aimed at the primary grades I was thrilled by how much I found I could use with my 6th graders with minimal tweaking. Students of all ages need to be infected with passion and wonder! Specifically, I foresee using a lot of the activities as introduction and immersion activities when we begin our research unit. Students are always more enthusiastic when they are writing about something they feel passionate about and McDonough and Heard have developed some amazing ways of drawing those passions out of them!


*Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Nonfiction Monday- Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin is one of my favorite books to use as a mentor text during the year. Needless to say I was ecstatic when I saw that it was being reissued in paperback next month! I just received my review copy and have to say it is wonderful. I love hardcovers, but sometimes it is nice to just have a paperback copy to keep with my notes and the unit that I use the book with.

I use Snowflake Bentley during my multigenre unit of writing because it is a wonderful example of multigenre writing. The inner portions of each page tell the narrative biography of Wilson Bentley, a Vermont farm boy who was fascinated by snowflakes. He spent his life photographing and studying these tiny flakes of snow. Many of his photographs are still used today! The story is biographical and reads as a narrative, so this would make a great read aloud for any age.

The outer edges of each page offer more information on snowflakes and the science used by Bentley. The sidebars read less like a story and more like interviews or informational text. However, both sets of text meld together almost seamlessly….it’s a phenomenal example of multigenre writing!

Not to mention, the woodcut illustrations are gorgeous, hence the book receiving the 1998 Caldecott Medal. Snowflake Bentley is a picture book that should be in all classroom libraries, from preschool to high school!