I am Mentioned in an NCTE Journal!

I am honored!  NCTE’s Voices from the Middle focuses on YA Literature this month and I have been perusing it bit by bit over the last few weeks.  Thanks to Mrs. V. for pointing out that I am actually mentioned in one of the articles!  I am honestly gobsmacked!  The article, Technology Toolkit: Making the Shift: YA Lit 2.0 by Sandy Hayes, lists great examples of the different aspects of children’s literature online.  My blog is listed under YA Lit 1.5 as the only example of a teacher blog about young adult literature featuring book reviews, interviews, and author news.  I am so, so, so excited!  😀


BEA Update!

I have been a terrible blogger lately, and I apologize. The end of the year is kicking my butt with grades, sending out applications, doing placement for next year, and all of the various odds-and-ends that take over for the last few weeks. I promise I will be back to normal soon!

However, this week I took a professional day and attended the first day of BEA. While it wasn’t a typical professional day (no workshops, etc), it was extremely valuable. I was able to make connections with publishers and authors while also getting a look at upcoming titles for next year. That helps me plan out my read alouds and booktalks in the coming months. Plus, I came home with loads of ARCs and swag for my classroom, which made my students extremely happy!

Wednesday morning started at my regular wake-up time. I ate a quick breakfast and started the annoyingly long drive to the train station. If I wanted a parking space (and thus avoiding having to drive into NYC) I had to make it to the station by 8:30am. Thankfully, I got there just in time. I waited a few minutes, hopped onto the next train, and was in Penn Station by 9:30am. Needless to say, it was hot and humid when I walked out onto the street! It’s a good thing the Javits Center is only four blocks from Penn Station. I was still sweating by the time I got there and picked up my badge.

The first thing I noticed, after cooling off, was that everything was on one floor this year. Last year, the children’s book pavilion was in its own room downstairs. This year, everything was on the main convention floor. It was more convenient, but also more crowded. I got out on the convention floor when The Duchess of York was still signing her picture book at the autograph tables (ugh) and you could not even move. It was just way too crowded. Plus, there were paparazzi getting in the way!

After walking the floor once to get the layout, I texted Abby(the)Librarian. We’ve known each other online for a few years and were on the Cybils middle grade panel this year, so I was excited to finally meet her. We met up a few minutes later and she introduced me to Jen o fNerdGirlBlogging.  We walked the floor and started chatting with various publishers and publicists.  It was great to have people to walk around with this year, although Abby was way better at handing out her blog business card than me.  We spent a few hours together and got a lot of great books!  I have to say, publishers were definitely a little stingier with ARCs this year, due to the economy.  There were a lot more “ARCs only at specific times” which resulted in stampedes at various publisher’s booths.  It was madness.  I was actually afraid of getting trampled a few times.  However, I still managed to get a a few of my most-wanted ARCs.  (Weird note- Scholastic had no booth this year.  Which was odd.)

Around 1pm we stopped for lunch, eating $8 crepes on the floor in the back of the convention center.  I was so hungry that the crepes tasted like they were straight from France.  While eating I texted Sarah Darer Littman, author of the amazing upcoming Life, After. When I reviewed the book I mentioned that I adored the book cover and would love to hang it up as art. Well, Sarah read the review and decided to make posters! We made a plan to meet up at BEA. Let me tell you- she is THE.NICEST.AUTHOR.EVER. She planted herself on the ground with us and chatted and gossiped. What a sweetheart! (And Life, After is absolutely awesome, so be sure to pick up a copy come July 1st).  And come on- do you know any other authors who would admit to attempting a banana kick?  In a dress?  Just to explain who Pele is?

After lunch we started walking the floor again, making a plan to pick up ARCs and network with some of the publishers who had meeting rooms set up.  It was so much fun and we managed to run into even more authors.  At one point, I was asking a publicist at Little, Brown if they had any more ARCs of Wendy Mass’ new title, The Candymakers. The publicist said they didn’t and as I was walking away someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “The book is wonderful.  She’s signing it at 4pm.  Actually, she’s right here,” pointing to Wendy Mass!  I got to have a great conversation and even verified that she was the second cousin of one of my former students.  (Plus, the sweet woman who told me how great the book was?  Courtney Sheinmel, author of Cybil-nominated Positively.  I didn’t realize it was Courtney until I walked away and managed to sneak a look at her nametag.  By the time I realized it I was too embarassed to chase her down.  I should have told her that one of my students has been reading and rereading Positively since March.  It’s her favorite book ever.  (When I told that student the next day, she freaked out that I met her idol. 🙂 ).

That’s what I love about BEA.  Randomly running into authors and getting to tell them how much I appreciate them and how much my students love their books.  Before the day was over I finally got to meet Jane Kurtz, author of the Lanie books from American Girl.  Jane is a fellow monarch lover and even took a picture of my Monarch Teacher Network totebag and posted it on her blog!

After I met Jane I was able to hop on the end of the line for the 14 Cows for America signing. I lucked out and didn’t even have to wait long! Carmen Agra Deedy was a sweetheart and I am so glad I was able to get a signed copy of the book. I can’t wait to use it in the classroom!

By that point, my shoulders were sore and I knew it was time to head home. I really wanted to stay for the Kidlit Drink Night and to meet up with even more people, but I didn’t think I could make it. Plus, I had to hike back to Penn Station in 90+ degree heat with lots of books. (I know, poor me. :-P). I decided to throw in the towel until next year. But let me tell you, I can’t wait to go back! I may even try for two day next year, and I plan to bring some more teachers with me! BEA is a fantastic opportunity to network with authors, publishers, librarians, and booksellers and it’s not an opportunity teachers get very often. If you ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it!

I will post a picture of my book-gets later, but a few teasers now:

Best swag: My purple Diary of a Wimpy Kid 5 reusable water bottle.

ARCs I am Most Excited About:

ARC I am Most Disappointed With: Bright Young Things by Anna Godberson.- The “ARC” is actually just some sample chapters! What a tease! I read it on the train ride home and needless to say I can’t wait to read the book. It’s just like The Luxe so far, and now I have to wait until October to read the rest of it. No fair! 😉

What I Will Be Looking for at BEA!

On Wednesday I will be heading into the city for BEA.  This will be my second year at the convention and I am looking forward to actually meeting some people this year.  (Are you going to be at BEA?  Leave a comment with your email address if you want to meet up and say hi!)

I am looking forward to networking and meeting fellow bloggers, but I am also looking forward to the authors and publishers.  It’s always fun to see the new and upcoming titles.  I will be keeping my eye out for a few galleys. I discussed BEA with my classes, and they placed requests for galleys I absolutely, positively must be on the lookout for. I’m pretty sure it’s under penalty of death. 🙂

I love Anna Godberson’s The Luxe series so I am hoping to pick up a copy of her newest, Bright Young Things, set in the 1920’s. (Harper)

Delirium by Lauren Oliver (Harper) sounds amazing. It is set in a world where love is considered a disease. Sounds a bit dystopian, so you know I want to take a look at it.

The Magnificent Twelve: The Call by Michael Grant (HarperCollins) has been getting rave reviews on Twitter from Paul W. Hankins. I also love Grant’s dystopian series, so I imagine this will be just as good.

Reckless by Cornelia Funke (Little, Brown) sounds amazing. Dark fairy tales that come to life? Sign me up!

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher (Dial) is a sequel to Incarceron. Enough said. Where do I sign up?

I have some avid James Patterson fans in my class. Witch & Wizard: The Gift by James Patterson (Little, Brown) is high on my must-get list because they are begging for it! The first novel is the series is making the rounds through my classroom right now.

Hush by Eishes Chayil (Walker) sounds a bit old for my readers, but I am drawn to the description. Written pseudonymously, it tells the story of a teenager who confronts her memories of and guilt about abuse she witnessed in her Hasidic community.

Matched by Ally Condie (Dutton). Since we finished The Giver earlier this year, dystopian novels have been huge in my classes. I introduced this title and had kids salivating over it. Another “must-get” in the eyes of my 6th graders.

We just finished our Holocaust unit, so Annexed by Sharon Dogar (Houghton Mifflin) immediately caught my students’s attention. Annexed is fictionalized account that follows Peter van Pels from the attic he shared with Anne Frank to Auschwitz.

Dystopian? We love it. Zombies? Their popularity is growing. Needless to say, the gimme gimme’s started when I talked about The Enemy by Charlie Higson (Disney-Hyperion). The Enemy is a dystopian novel where teenagers older than 16 are turned into flesh-eating zombies.

The Limit by Kristen Landon (Aladdin) caught my eye because it sounds a bit like historical fiction, yet it is a fantasy. The story is set in a world in which children are taken to “workhouses” when their families exceed their monthly debt limits.

Gross plots always catch my students’s attention. Needless to say, they were clamoring for more information about Thaw by Rick Jasper (Carolrhoda Lab). All we know is the short jacket description, which sounds awesome. In the story, the cryogenically frozen bodies of 27 federal inmates thaw out—and disappear—after a blackout. Ew. Creepy. And I can’t wait to take a look at it!

Wendy Mass is one of my all-time favorite middle grade authors. Her books rarely stay on my shelf and I’m sure her newest title will be no different. The Candymakers (Little, Brown) is a mystery involving four children and a candy contest. Sounds a bit like Willy Wonka, eh?

And of course, I MUST MUST MUST get a copy of Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson (sequel to Chains). I have been waiting desperately for this one for over a year!

Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin (Dial) sounds amazing. Two girls become as close as sisters, but one doesn’t know the other is a fairy in disguise, sent here to trap the girl into fulfilling a promise made by her ancestors.

Those are the galleys I will be keeping my eye out for. If you are going to BEA, what will you be looking for? Are there any books I missed?

Final Read Aloud of the Year

This past week I began our final read aloud of the year.  It’s always a bittersweet experience- my students have come so far but we will be saying goodbye soon.  I spent a few weeks debating which book I would share, but ultimately decided on Rick Riordan’s The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1). For the past two years my final read aloud had been The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians), working alongside our social studies teacher in the ancient Greece unit.  But this year many of my students were already huge fans after seeing the movie and I knew I had to choose something else.

The Lightning Thief was always popular in my room because it was funny, easy to relate to, and full of action.  Boys and girls alike fell in love with the book and many of them proceeded to read the rest of the series over the summer.  I wanted to do the same thing with our last read aloud this year.  While Riordan may not be the most literary of choices the kids love him.  He opens up doors to new knowledge and ancient mythology.  I can’t tell you how many of my Percy Jackson fans are now reading Greek mythology and even classics like The Odyssey.

When I began to read The Red Pyramid, I knew it would be perfect for our end-of-the-year read aloud.  Like Percy, Sadie and Carter are funny and easy to relate to.  I also love that we have two protagonists, male and female.  While I’m not sure we will actually complete the 500+ page book together, I know it will leave my students wanting to read it on their own over the summer.

We began the book over the past week.  It’s already a huge success!  Within days I had 15-20 students who went out and purchased their own copies.  I have a few more planning to do the same.  They read ahead and then listen again when we read together.  For those students, they are learning the value of rereading.  Inevitably, they learn something new or notice something else on the reread.  My more dormant readers are loving the humor and adventure in the story and enthusiasm is building.  I’m hoping our read aloud leads to more reading for pleasure this summer!

Have you started your final read aloud of the year?  What will you be reading and why did you choose it?

MotherReader’s Fifth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge

One of my favorite weekends of the week is creeping closer and closer- the Fifth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge.  The rules are the same.  🙂

The weekend is June 4–6, 2010. Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the fourth and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday the seventh. So, go from 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday… or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row. That said, during that 48-hour period you may still have gaps of time in which you can’t read, and that’s fine.

Sign up now!

I’m not sure if I can devote an entire weekend to the readathon, but I sure plan on giving it my best shot!

Adding Books to Your Classroom Library

Any teacher worth their salt knows how important classroom libraries are.  Even if we didn’t see the evidence in our classrooms everyday, there is plenty of research proving their importance.   But how does a teacher keep their library packed, updated, and enticing?  Students need access to books.  The more students you teach, the more books you need in your library.  At times it can seem very intimidating- how do we build up a huge classroom library without going broke?

I am extremely lucky.  Thanks to my work reviewing books for the blog I have access to review copies and ARCs.  Every single review copy and ARC I receive makes its way into my classroom library for my students to read and enjoy.  If I don’t think the book is appropriate for my 6th graders I pass it on to another teacher, our school librarian, or my sister’s school.  But most teachers don’t have time to review books on top of their day-to-day work, so I am frequently asked how I keep my library well-stocked and up-to-date.

One of the best ways to stock your classroom library is by visiting the semi-annual Scholastic Warehouse Sale in your area.  Check here for the next sale in your area.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE my warehouse sale!  Picture this:  walking through a large garage-like door.  In front of you are closed silver cases, the ones you see at your school book fair.  There are signs, favorite characters posters, and a few small piles of books.  You round the corner and suddenly you are swallowed up by this huge warehouse.  Floor to ceiling there are just huge shelves of books.  It’s like a teacher and booklover’s paradise.  Bring your credit card, your purchase order, your checkbook- however you plan to pay.  And be prepared to walk out with boxes upon boxes of books.

Can’t get to a warehouse sale?  Check out online book outlets.  Right now Barnes and Noble is running a 3 for $10 promotion.  There are lots of great children’s and YA titles in the mix.  I just placed my order.  I also frequently check out the Bargain Books on Amazon.  Be sure to go through the books in the $5 and under category for some really great deals!

Better World Books is my all-time favorite book website.  They have a constant promotion of 5 used books for $15.  Many of these are library remains and I have scooped up some phenomenal deals.  The shipping is a little slow, but it is free and they let you offset the carbon footprint so they get two thumbs up from me!  And right now they are running a special promotion in honor of Children’s Book Week-  5 children’s books for $10!

Offline you can visit garage sales, library book sales, and make sure you utilize the Scholastic Book Clubs.  I use my bonus points monthly to buy new titles for our classroom library.  The kids love having a say in what we purchase and it really builds a lot of excitement.

Children’s Choice Book Awards Winners

The following press release just came out.  I have to say that my students are going to be thrilled with all of the winners! Rachel Renée Russell’s Dork Diaries is a huge favorite in my room and I am so happy to see it getting some well-deserved notice.

The Children’s Choice Book Award winners are as follows:

Author of the Year

James Patterson for Max (A Maximum Ride Novel) (Little, Brown)

Illustrator of the Year

Peter Brown for The Curious Garden (Little, Brown)

Kindergarten to Second Grade Book of the Year

Lulu the Big Little Chick by Paulette Bogan (Bloomsbury USA)

Third Grade to Fourth Grade Book of the Year

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Knopf/Random House)

Fifth Grade to Sixth Grade Book of the Year

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renée Russell (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster)
Teen Choice Book of the Year

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press)

The Children’s Choice Book Awards program, launched in 2008 by The Children’s Book Council (CBC) in association with Every Child a Reader, Inc. (the CBC Foundation), was created to provide young readers with an opportunity to voice their opinions about the books being written for them and to help develop a reading list that will motivate children to read more and cultivate a love of reading.

The Children’s Book Council, established in 1945, is the nonprofit trade association of publishers of trade books for children and young adults in the United States. The CBC promotes the use and enjoyment of trade books for young people, most prominently as the official sponsor of Children’s Book Week, the longest running literacy event in the country. The goals of the Children’s Book Council are to make the reading and enjoyment of books for young people an essential part of America’s educational and social goals, as well as to enhance the public perception of the importance of reading by disseminating information about books for young people and about children’s book publishing. For more information, visit us at www.cbcbooks.org.

Every Child a Reader, the CBC Foundation, is dedicated to supporting positive programs and opportunities that help promote the enjoyment and importance of reading among America’s youth. Every Child a Reader is the administrator of such impactful programs as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and Children’s Book Week. For more information, visit us at www.ECARfoundation.org.

Monarch News

Just a few links to some monarch butterfly news.  The migration is reaching farther north each week, and I am hoping to see my first monarch sometime soon!

  • The latest Journey North update has maps of the monarch sightings and milkweed growth over the past week.  You can sign up to get the weekly updates via email.
  • The New Jersey School-Age Care Coalition has just posted a guide to creating a butterfly garden in NJ school yards, as part of it’s Afterschool Care programs.  The brochure is detailed and includes some fantastic ideas.
  • Sign up for Pollinator LIVE! On May 12, 2010, you can join a live webcast from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET. Participants can drop in at any time during this full day of webcasts to learn about pollination, pollinators, participatory science projects, the latest about monarch butterflies, and how to attract pollinators to your schoolyard. Experts will answer your students’ questions.  You can also view the webcasts later on the website, which I will be doing with my classes on Thursday.  (Students have a half day Wednesday, so we can’t participate live.)

And if you are interested in getting involved with the Monarch Teacher Network (like me!), there are workshops being offered all over the country.  Check out the program’s website and the registration form here.

Workshops 2010

June Workshops

[  ] June 14-15:   Naples Botanical Garden; Naples, Florida (Collier County)

[  ] June 15-16:   Leisure Park Elementary School; Broken Arrow, Oklahoma (Tulsa area)

[  ] June 21-22:   Region 14 Education Service Center; Abilene, Texas

[  ] June 23-24: Harper Park Middle School; Leesburg, Virginia (Loudoun County, DC area)

[  ] June 28-29:   Parkdale High School; Maryland (Prince Georges County, DC area)

July Workshops:

[  ] July 26-27: Webster Hill School; West Hartford, Connecticut

[  ] July 29-30: The Advent School; Boston, Massachusetts

August Workshops:

[  ] Aug   2-3:      Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center; Sioux City, Iowa

[  ] Aug   5-6:      Sacred Heart School; West Des Moines, Iowa

[  ] Aug   5-6:      Knox Agri-Center; Galesburg, Illinois (Peoria area)

[  ] Aug 11-12:    Living Classrooms; Washington DC (Stuart Hobson MS)

[  ] Aug 16-17:    William Paterson University; New Jersey (Passaic County, New York City area)

[  ] Aug 17-18:    Hartshorn Arboretum (Essex County, New York City area)

[  ] Aug 19-20: EIRC facility; Mullica Hill, New Jersey (Gloucester County, Philadelphia area)

[  ] Aug 19-20: Peabody Museum; Yale University, Connecticut (New Haven Area)

Also, the Voices program is expanding!  There is a workshop being offered in June in Texas.  I so wish I could go.  For more information, check out the website.  You can also see my students’ Voices project on the blog a few years ago, along with the book we made.

BEA, Here I Come!

I got my approval today to attend BEA on Wednesday!  I know there is a Kidlit drink night that night, and I plan to stop by, but who else will be around during the day?  What is a “can’t miss”?  I haven’t even looked at the schedule yet…..

Workshop as Test Prep?

Today my students finished the NJASK standardized test for 6th grade.  Well, they didn’t really finish- math is tomorrow and Thursday.  But the language arts section is done now!  This afternoon I took an informal, conversational survey of my students.  They were all really happy because they felt that the test was “So easy! Much easier than last year!”.  I didn’t notice anything different from years past, so I asked them what we had done this year that they thought best prepared them for the test.  Needless to say, I was thrilled with their answers.

  • Our weekly Article of the Week.  They said that reading the articles helped them feel more confident about informational text, and the written response each week gave them more confidence.
  • The Forty Book Challenge.  Requiring them to read 40 books increased their speed and fluency.  A lot of them said it was the first year that they didn’t struggle to finish the reading selections.
  • Using boxes and bullets for the persuasive essay (a la Calkins)
  • Our read alouds.  They had a wide range of texts to draw on, and they remembered a lot of conversations while answering the multiple choice questions.  One student told me that he just imagined the questions being read in my voice, like they were a part of our read aloud conversation.
  • Letter-essays.  Again, they felt confident about writing a lot in a set amount of time.  And they told me they had a lot of strategies to draw on when they got stuck.
  • Our one week of test prep before the test.  They really liked that we focused on test writing as a genre, because they felt that they really understood the ins and outs of the test better.  Also, they loved the “hamburger method” (from Better Answers) for answering open-ended reading response questions.

But my favorite answer?  “The old ladies!”  See, I tell my classes that the written responses to the NJASK are hand-graded by old, retired teachers who are locked in a conference room for an entire weekend and do nothing but grade tests.  They get cranky, their coffee gets stale, and they don’t want to read messy or bad writing.  They don’t want to have to struggle to understand what the writer means.  I say this jokingly, asking my students how many of them have to explain technology to their grandparents in great detail when all they want is to tell a story about a Youtube video.  This always bring laughs but a lot of nods.  Turns out, you need to explain the same amount in your writing!  I remind them that the cranky old teachers only have the answer sheets in front of them, so you need to explain in DETAIL.  Not just glossing over facts or opinions!

Imagine my surprise when one student raised her hand today and told me that made all the difference in the world for her.  Suddenly, she had an audience in mind when writing.  She didn’t make assumptions that her reader was going to be a teacher who knew her well and could make assumptions about what she meant.  As she told me this, I watched the rest of my class nod in agreement.  Who knew?!  Just picturing an old, cranky teacher was enough to remind them to elevate their writing.  We talk about audience all the time, but this time it clicked.

Needless to say, I am thrilled that everything I do as a part of workshop translated to the test for my students.  I don’t do months of test prep, I don’t focus on the test as the be-all end-all of the year, but they all took it seriously.  What I saw as I was walking around thrilled me!  Of course, I won’t see results until the end of the summer, but I feel confident that they all did their best work.  🙂