The River by Mary Jane Beaufrand

I put Mary Jane Beaufrand’s The River on my wishlist months ago. I remember reading about it on a blog and immediately adding it to the list of books I wanted to read. All I remember is that the premise, a missing little girl, grabbed me because it sounded like a true-crime novel. Last week I purchased my copy after weeding through my wish list and boy and boy am I glad I did!

The River is the story of Ronnie Severance, a high schooler whose parents move her from Portland, Oregon to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, hours away from her friends. She doesn’t fit in and she is haunted by the sounds of the Santiam River, running right through her backyard. She misses the sounds of traffic, yelling pedestrians, and other city noises. The river provides an eery and dark soundtrack to her new and depressing life.

The single bright spot in Ronnie’s life is Karen, a young girl that she babysits. Despite their obvious difference in age, Ronnie and Karen connect as friends. Karen brings out a more adventurous side in Ronnie while she tries to keep Karen a little more tethered to the earth. (Someone has to be responsible!) But when Karen is found drowned in the Santiam, everything changes. While the police feel that it is nothing more than a tragic accident, Ronnie is haunted by the feeling that something more sinister happened. And when she begins to investigate on her own she takes her life into her hands.

This is a page-turner that is full of suspense. I began reading it Friday and could not put it down. I read it during silent reading, read it when I got home, and finished it before bed. Beaufrand keeps her reader on the edge of their seat with a completely realistic murder investigation. I felt like it was ripped from the headlines, in a good way!

This book deals with the murder of a young child and the ramifications of meth use on addicts and those who love them. The death and drug usage are mature, but I don’t think I would keep my 6th graders from reading it. They are great self-censorers and I know some of them have dealt with issues equally as weighty in their own lives. I think this is an important book because meth usage has spread over the last decade and has really destroyed many small-towns. While I was aware of this, the story really drives home how powerful the drug is and that almost anyone can fall victim to peer pressure and addiction. Our choices affect others and can even result in death. The River is a great example of a pebble being thrown into a pond- the ripples of our actions spread farther than we can imagine or control.


E-readers in the Classroom

On Friday I had my first experience with an e-reader in the classroom.  During enrichment, we were reading because the class technically finished on Tuesday but they won’t switch to a new enrichment until this coming Monday.  As I looked over the top of my book at the sea of children reading, my eyes fell upon something that did not fit in with the rest- a Nook!

One of my students had pulled out her Nook and was deeply entrenched in Pretty Little Liars #4: Unbelievable. I watched her for a few minutes before sitting down next to her and quietly asking if I could see her book. The Nook was awesome. While I don’t think I want an e-reader for my children’s/YA books (because I like to donate them to classroom libraries after reading them), I might like a Nook for my adult reads, magazines, and newspapers. It was pretty cool to play with and the rest of my students were fascinated. My Nook-reader explained how it works to the rest of her class and they loved it.

I had been waiting for an e-reader to pop up in my classroom this year. I was a little worried that if/when it happened, it would cause a disruption. But after students got an explanation, they settled right back into their own books. It was awesome!

Article of the Week Sources

After my last post, a few people asked me where I get my articles for the weekly Article of the Week.  Honestly, I think I use a different source each week!  However, here are some of the sources I have used so far this year:

I’m always looking for more current events for middle schoolers.  It seems that most websites are geared toward high school and the reading level is too difficult for many of my sixth graders.  Please post any other websites in the comments!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Trailer

The trailer is finally here!  I laughed at the trailer and think the movie will be  a big hit.

Article of the Week with Middle Schoolers

Last year, after reading Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, I was inspired to start using an Article of the Week with my 6th graders.  Like Gallagher, I see a distinctive lack of background knowledge with my students which makes it hard for them to read at times.  Gallagher uses his Article of the Week with high schoolers but I figured I could do the same with my 6th graders if I tweaked the assignment just a bit.

Each Friday I hand out a new article.  Most of the time they are related to current events, but they can also be editorials, opinions, information nonfiction, and even reviews.  I try to focus on topics they might not otherwise learn about, though for the past two weeks we have been reading in depth about the earthquake in Haiti.  Each week they are responsible for a close reading that shows evidence of reading the text- highlighting, writing in the margins, underlining, or otherwise marking up the article.  Then, they respond to a critical thinking/opinion question with at least one paragraph.  Next week, as we move into the 3rd marking period, I plan to up the ante a bit and require at least half a page for their answers.

Every Friday at the beginning of class a volunteer summarizes the article and a few volunteers share their answers.  Sometimes we get into debates, sometimes we learn from each other, and we always learn something new from the article.  These past two weeks the articles have focused on Haiti and my students really *got* it.  It was much better than a quick chat about the earthquake and now they are raising money through donations of their change and leftover lunch money.  I’m so proud of them!

The AOW has been the best decision I made this year.  I love that my students are broadening their horizons and expanding their schema.  I also love that it doesn’t require me to grade anything or add to my never-ending pile of papers.  I walk around and check for completion, glancing to make sure that the question was answered.  I don’t assess grammar or spelling- as I explain to the parents, this is an exercise in critical thinking.  We cover the grammar and spelling at other points during the workshop.

As far as assessment, each AOW is worth ten points.  I grade using a point system, so each marking period my students start with a perfect score on the AOW.  This marking period we had 8 weeks where I planned to use an AOW so each student received an 80/80.  If a student didn’t complete an AOW they lost 10 points.  An incomplete AOW loses 5 points.  As I tell my students, they have a perfect score and it’s their responsibility to keep it that way!  🙂

Inspiration from a Ghost Tour!

This weekend I got to visit my favorite town in the world- Princeton.  My fiance and I took a ghost tour of the town on Saturday night and it was awesome!   Princeton has always been my all-time favorite town and despite the fact that it’s only 40 minutes away, I don’t get there enough.  But the ghost tour, arranged by Chris’s company, sounded like a good reason to head west and hang out in town.  Boy, was it worth it!

We left around 8pm and spent almost an hour and a half wandering the streets, listening to tales of murder, hauntings, and unmarked graves.  So much fun!  I thought I knew Princeton fairly well, but there was so much I had never even delved into before!  Some of the stories really got me thinking and might have even inspired a story idea or two.  😉  It’s amazing what setting can do for your writer’s block.

*I would totally recommend Princeton Tour Company.  I plan to do another ghost tour with some friends and I definitely want to do the Literary Greats tour and maybe a Grub Crawl!

A grave in the Quaker cemetery for James Potter.  Yes, I am that much of a Harry Potter dork.  😉


As a follow-up to this post, my students met today to talk about their Article of the Week.  (Every Friday my students receive a current events article/editorial and must read and respond to it over the course of the week.  The articles broaden their horizons and provide background knowledge and scaffolding for them).  We discussed the latest news from Haiti while reading the updates on CNN and watching a few videos from their student news.

Then we discussed what we can do.  The students decided to put their change in our class bucket for the next week.  Next Friday we will count the money and divide it by four, giving 25% to each class.  Each period will then vote on the charity they want to donate their portion to in order to support the aid work in Haiti.  We spent a few minutes browsing the websites of various charities in class today and they started keeping a list of the ones they connected with.

It was a great experience today.  The kids really seemed to “get” it.  They talked about what it’s like to live with their own lives while knowing what is going on in Haiti.  I am so proud of them!

News from Here and There

A few links from around the blogosphere that you might be interested in:

  • Betsy Bird was awesome enough to film the ALA Awards live.  Want to see what it’s like to be in the room when the awards are announced? Check out Part One of her videos.  I know I plan to show the Newbery and Sibert portions to my students later this week.
  • If you are anything like me then you are trying to find a way to teach your students how to do research without copying sentences word-for-word from any old website. I.N.K. has a great idea for teaching students how to research and I can’t wait to tweak it for use in my own classroom.
  • The Reading Countess asks, “What would our classrooms be like if we didn’t have standardized testing mandated by NCLB?”
  • Donalyn Miller, aka The Book Whisperer, shares an email she recently sent to her student’s parents about the importance of completing at-home independent reading.  She says so eloquently what I always want to say.  Just because there is not written work with independent reading each night does not mean it’s optional or less important than any other homework!
  • Be sure to check out the latest edition of the Children’s Literacy Round-up at The Reading Tub!

2010 Newbery Award Winners


2010 Newbery Honors:

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

And the 2010 Newbery Medal goes to………… Rebecca Stead for When You Reach Me!!!!!!!!!

This year I read 3 of the 5 award winners, including the medal winner.  My kids chose When You Reach Me as their mock Newbery winner.  I am so excited for Rebecca Stead, who is such a sweetheart.

The awards were interesting this year, because @randomhousekids tweeted a congratulations to to When You Reach Me before the award was announced, breaking the embargo.  Imagine if a dark horse won and the book was exposed early?!  I have a feeling this won’t bode well for Random House at next year’s awards….

Some other winners that I read this year…..

A complete list of the winners can be found at the ALA website.

My ALA Awards Hopes and Dreams!

Right now, there are authors, illustrators, editors, agents, and other book people getting ready to go to bed (or already sleeping) and completely unaware that they will receive a life-changing phone call in just a few hours.  The Newbery Committee has made its selections, the press release has been drafted, and at 7:45am the awards will be announced.

Yesterday I posted the books that my four Language Arts classes chose as their Newbery Medal and Honor books.  Tonight I am posting my own hopes for the 2010 Newbery Medal and Honor books.  I’m not going specify which books should win which awards….I am just hoping that many of these books garner a shiny medal tomorrow morning!



When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

All The Broken Pieces by Ann Burg

Love, Aubrey Suzanne LaFleur

The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz

When the Whistle Blows by Fran Slayton



I’ve never made a guess about the Printz Award before, but I read a lot of YA this year, so I figured I’d take a stab.  I would love to hear one of these announced as a winner tomorrow:

Fire (Graceling) by Kristin Cashore

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor




And I read so few picture books, but why not make some wild guesses for the Caldecott?  Once, I was able to say I read both the Newbery and Caldecott before they were chosen.  That was only because The Invention of Hugo Cabret won and it was not a traditional picture book! But here are some of my absolute favorites from this year:

Bella & Bean by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Love Story (Amiri And Odette) by Walter Dean Myers

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy



And here is one of my favorites for the Sibert Award:

Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 by Charles C. Mann



Don’t forget to watch the live webcast from ALA at 7:45am tomorrow morning! I won’t be with my students, as we are off for MLK, Jr. Day so I will be tweeting with other kidlit bloggers, bright and early!