Stolen by Lucy Christopher

I picked up Lucy Christopher’s Stolen after reading Kate Messner’s rave review.

A psychological thriller, this is not a book to pick up unless you are ready to sit down and read it straight through.  Sixteen-year old Gemma is in the Bangkok airport with her parents when she meets a man who seems to actually listen to her.  However, things are not as they seem.  Ty is rugged, strangely handsome, too old for her,  and oddly familiar.  He pays for Gemma’s drink. And drugs it. They talk. Their hands touch. And before Gemma knows what’s happening, Ty takes her.  In and out of consciousness for an unknown amount of time, she finally wakes up in a house, with Ty.  She eventually figures out that the house is in the middle of the Australian Outback, hours or even days from the closest town.  And Ty  loves her. Wants her. Only her.  She is held prisoner with no chance of escape.

The story is incredible.  I was constantly on the edge of my seat as I read.  However, the writing style jarred me at times.  Written as a letter to her captor, Gemma constantly refers to Ty as “you”. This use of second-person was constantly pulling me out of the story as I had to consciously focus on you=Ty.  It’s not often that “you” is used in a novel, and when it is it usually refers to the reader, a la Lemony Snicket’s books.  However, other than this small personal issue, I loved the book.

Readers should be aware that this isn’t an action-packed story.  Much of the day-to-day storytelling is mundane.  However, it’s the emotional journey that draws you in.  Gemma isn’t ever really sure how she feels, and you are right there with her. The ending is left open, and while this usually annoys me, I was glad to see it in this book.  This isn’t a story you can wrap up neatly at the end.  Once the story was over I found myself still thinking about it.

Perfect for fans of TV crime shows, mysteries, and realistic fiction.  Highly recommended for high school classrooms/libraries.

*review copy courtesy of publisher


Book Event in NYC!

So sad that I can’t make it to this event, but hopefully you can!

Courtney Sheinmel and Regan Hofmann at at the National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South (20th St. between Park & Irving Place), New York City on Tuesday, Oct 12th, 8 p.m, for a reading/discussion/signing.


Reading, Discussion & Booksigning.  Authors Regan Hofmann and Courtney Sheinmel share stories of hope, redemption and the liberating power of the written word.  In 1996, Regan Hofmann became an unexpected symbol of HIV:  a young, well-to-do, white woman.  For a decade she kept her status secret.  But Regan, a journalist by trade, knows secrets and stigma can kill, and sharing personal truths can unite people and save lives.  In 2006, she became editor-in-chief of POZ Magazine, putting herself on the cover.  Her memoir, I Have Something to Tell You, chronicles her journey, and was praised by Kenneth Cole as “insightful and inspiring.”  Young adult author Courtney Sheinmel was thirteen years old when she began volunteering for the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, after reading an article about Foundation co-founder Elizabeth Glaser.  Courtney’s critically-acclaimed novel, Positively, follows a seventh grader living with HIV and was hailed by Publishers Weeklyas “wrenchingly authentic and quietly powerful.”  The book was inspired, in part, by her relationship with the Glaser family.  She’s also the author of My So-Called FamilySincerely, and the upcoming All the Things You Are.

I have read and loved all of Courtney’s books (Positively, My So-Called Family).  A few months ago we connected on Twitter because we both have experience with Elizabeth Glaser.  Courtney is extremely involved in the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and I performed Glaser’s famous speech from the 1992 Democratic Convention when I was on my middle school forensics team.  I so wish I could make it to this event, but it’s too difficult on a weekday.  I’m just too exhausted lately!  But you should go and tell me all about it!

Pictures and video of Regan and Courtney speaking together in January at Housing works.

Nonfiction Monday and the Cybils

I am so very excited to announce on this Nonfiction Monday that I am back with the Cybil Awards this year!  Ah, but this time I have stepped out of my comfort zone- middle grade fiction- and I am jumping headfirst into the MG/YA Nonfiction Panel. I am thrilled to be working with some fantastic teachers, authors, librarians, and much more for the first round.

Courtesy of the Cybils blog, check out my amazing category!

Panel Organizer: Susan Thomsen, Chicken Spaghetti [TW]

Panelists (Round I Judges):

Karen Ball, Mrs. B’s Favorites
Sarah Mulhern Gross, The Reading Zone [TW]
David Judge, Adventures at Wilder Farm
Jessica Leader, Jessica Leader [TW]
Susan Thomsen (see category organizer)

Judges (Round II):

Edi Campbell, Crazy Quilts [TW]
René Colato LaínezLa Bloga [TW]
David Gutowski, Largehearted Boy [TW]
Colleen Mondor, Chasing RayBookslut [TW]
Sandhya Nankani, Literary SafariSepia Mutiny [TW]

October 1st the nominations open and I can not wait!

Speak Loudly

This week, Wesley Scroggins,an associate professor of management at Missouri State University (and fundamentalist Christian), wrote an opinion piece in the News-Leader of Springfield, MO, in which he characterized Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak as filthy and immoral, calling it “soft pornography” because of two rape scenes. He is demanding that Speak, along with a few other books, immediately be pulled from the district.  This leaves me infuriated.

Melinda Sordino is one of my all-time favorite YA characters.  I can still remember the first time I got a copy of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. My aunt was a seventh grade language arts teacher at the time and she used to hand books to me on a weekly basis. One of those books was Speak. I was immediately drawn to the cover and remember that I read it, from cover to cover, that night. I was only in junior high, but I knew this was an extremely powerful book.

Six years later, as a freshman in college, I volunteered with my campus’s Sexual Assault Services. I still remembered Melinda, even though I hadn’t read the book in years. For the next two years I saw real-life Melindas. I also saw the other characters in her life- her classmates. I was a part of SCREAM (Students Challenging Reality and Educating Against Myths ), a group which uses improv and theater to address interpersonal violence. This involves issues such as harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, emotional, physical, and verbal abuse, and same-sex violence. Most of the skits I was involved with centered around dating violence and sexual assault. I will never forget performing for various high schools around the state, watching their faces during the performance and listening to the questions those students asked at the end of the performance. Not every high schooler has access to something like SCREAM Theater. But EVERY adolescent should have access to Speak.

Why?  Take a look at these statistics, courtesy of RAINN.

  • Every two minutes someone in the United States is a victim of sexual assault.
  • 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
  • 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12.
  • 29% are age 12-17.
  • 44% are under age 18.
  • 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.
  • 3% of boys grades 5-8 and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.

Victims of sexual assault are:

  • 3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
  • 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
  • 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

How DARE Mr. Scroggins characterize Speak, an important and vital book for YA readers, as filth?  Apparently he is unaware that young readers can actually be the victims of horrible things like sexual assault.  In fact, as Jordan Sonnenblick once said, there are children everywhere experiencing things everyday that we won’t let them read about.  Mr. Scroggins, Speak might not be right for you or your child.  But it could be life-saving for a teen out there.  You have every right in the world to keep your own children from reading the book, but stay the hell away from everyone else’s children.

There has been an outpouring of rage on Twitter and book blogs.Authors are stepping forward in defense of Speak, as are readers (both teen and adult).  Check out the #SpeakLoudly hashtag on Twitter for hundreds of responses.  At 8pm there will be a live tweet of #SpeakLoudly.  Do your part and Speak Loudly!  Speak up and speak loudly.

Vordak the Incomprehensible: How to Grow Up and Rule the World by Vordak T. Incomprehensible

Vordak the Incomprehensible: How to Grow Up and Rule the World is a rip-roaringly hysterical book that I would hand to fans of anything remotely funny. I am passing this one on to my sister to share with her high school resource English class. Talk about high interest!

You have to read this book prepared to go, “Muaaahhaaahaaa!” all the while. Vordak the Incomprehensible is here to teach you how to be an evil villain. Thanks to Vordak, you can learn how to choose the best evil villain name, how to choose the best sidekick/evil henchman, and how to deal with those pesky and perky superheroes. The book is also full of wickedly funny illustrations to help you out in your quest for super evildom. And the best part is that Vordak only asks for $13.99 (the price of the book), and a place in your evil regime. You know, when you take over world. (Hmm, come to think of it, how come Vordak is asking YOU to do all the work while he hangs out in his parents’ basement in NJ).

Highly recommended for middle school and high school readers. I found myself laughing out loud over and over!

Cybils Bling!

The Cybils are coming!  The Cybils are coming!

We are almost in October.  In my mind, October means one thing, and one thing only- Cybils nominations. 🙂  But right now, you can support the Cybils by getting your own Cybils bling.  Check out their store.  I know I will be placing an order this week.  Maybe a tote bag.  Or maybe a mug?  I can’t decide!  Whatever I decide on, you should check out the store, too.

Cybils store 🙂

Edmodo in the Classroom

Earlier this week I set up my first Edmodo page.  I first heard of the site over the summer and decided to give it a shot this year.  I used a blog for my class last year, but it sounded like Edmodo could give me a little more flexibility.  I admit it had a bit of a learning curve, but after playing around for a bit I realized it is fairly intuitive.  I quickly set up two groups, one for my English I and one for English IV.

So far, I have only introduced the site to my seniors.  Before diving in head-on, I wanted to run a test and my senior class is pretty small.  I figured they would be the perfect test subjects.  As all of my students receive an email address through the school, I assigned the Edmodo sign-up as homework this weekend.  So far, 2/3 of my students have logged in and signed up.

Right now, my page is hosting our class assignments, including files.  I love love love that I can upload files and let the students download them at their leisure.  This allows me to save paper, which I adore.  I can also post all the files in one assignment note, making it easy for students to keep track of the work for each assignment.  Plus, now no one has to ask me for extra copies-they are right there on the web!

I also posted a link to our Goodreads group and an assignment to join our private group.  I have to tell you, it is so much easier posting all of this online instead of writing on a HW board at school!

So, do you use Edmodo?  Any tips or tricks?  Any cool ideas I should try?  I am planning an attempt to use it as a backchannel while we watch a film later this marking period, but otherwise I am tapped out.  I’d love to hear from other users!

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, having moved into our freshman year dorms only a few days earlier). 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.  Quickly, 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 nothing too life-changing for the majority of us. So from 9:50-10:30am we continued on with our normal class schedule, discussing women in the current political system. As class ended I remember walking back to the dorm, 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 in the dorms). 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. Unable to get through to anyone on the phone, I took my cell phone and 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 news sites 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 network 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 classmate, a few years younger than me. Her father 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.  I had never met the man, but I went to school with his daughter.  This wasn’t supposed to happen to people you knew…

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. School was canceled. The next few days were filled with phone calls “Did anyone hear anything? Any word?” My mother told me how on September 11, ferries came from the city to the local harbor. Ferries that were based all over NY just packed with passengers from NYC. 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.
Later, 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……


My current students were four and eight in 2001.  September 11th is a distant memory for them, something their parents and other adults talk about.  For me, it is hard to fathom not being able to articulate exactly where I was that day, that hour, that minute.  While I am glad they have no memory of the terror our nation, especially the tri-state area, experienced that day, it still leaves me stunned.  It’s such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine it not being a cornerstone in others’ lives.  Yet I am grateful for that blessing, too.

Back in the Swing of Things

This week marked the beginning of the new school year for me.  I am teaching in a new school, two new grade levels, with a new schedule.  The block scheduling for my freshman is still leaving me a little unsure of where I am, but my seniors are great so far!

I co-teach my freshman, alongside the history teacher, so I am still finding my way as far as class time, routines, etc.  But my seniors are all mine.  I work alongside another English teacher, teaching the same works and using the same projects, but the class itself is mine to plan.  Today I really got into “the groove”.  We are reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, one of my favorites.  But today I also started our first read aloud.  Unlike in the past, when I focused on the mock Newbery, I am working to align my read-aloud with our unit theme.  As we are studying the human condition, and reading books like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, I selected our first read-aloud carefully. We are reading Janne Teller’s Nothing. (see my review)  The book itself is stunning and I think it has Printz Award written all over it.  Even more importantly, it fits our unit perfectly while also exposing my students to literature from a modern European perspective.  We read the first 20 pages in class today and the comments were very positive.  I can’t want to continue!

I also did my first booktalks with my seniors.  I pulled all of my Lord of the Flies read-alikes and booktalked a few.  My students are all very smart (it’s a magnet-like high school), but they are not necessarily well-versed in current YA (although they are huge nonfiction and fantasy fans, with a few graphic novel lovers thrown in the mix).  During our first class meeting we introduced ourselves and named books that were important to us.  The books named included Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stitches: A Memoir, and The City of Ember (The First Book of Ember).

So what did I booktalk? The Hunger Games!  None of my students had read it and only two had heard of it.  I now have a waiting list for it. 🙂  One student took it home this weekend and was getting a firm reminder from her classmates to finish it this weekend.  I also booktalked Gone, which piqued their interest, too.  It’s awesome getting back into my normal routine!

Finally, I had each of my seniors sign up for Edmodo and Goodreads.  I just started using Edmodo and I think I love it so far!  I already know I love Goodreads.  I plan to use Goodreads for my seniors’ letter-essays, along with class book discussions.  Has anyone else used Goodreads in the classroom?  I would love to hear about your experiences!

Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

During 2008-2009, I read aloud Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson to my 6th graders. Since the day I finished the book I have been desperately awaiting its sequel. I follow Laurie’s blog and reveled in the bits & pieces of the research process that she shared with her readers while writing. When I did not get an ARC of the next book at BEA, I was heartbroken.  But then Abby volunteered to send me her copy after reading it.  I came home from my honeymoon and was ecstatic to find Forge waiting for me on my doorstep.

Forge takes places a bit after Chains ended.  This time, the story focuses on Curzon’s experiences.  He and Isabel have been separated.  When the book opens, Curzon is caught in the midst of a skirmish between the British and the American rebels.  When he saves the life of a young American soldier he is assimilated into their unit with little thought to where he came from.  Over the course of the book Curzon experiences parts of the Revolutionary War that many people are unfamiliar with- the freezing winter and food shortage at Valley Forge, the actions of slaves during the war, and daily life of those stationed at Valley Forge that fateful winter.  Just when Curzon thinks his luck has run out, he is shocked to learn that Isabel isn’t as far away as he thinks.  With a fantastic look at the (lack of) rights slaves had while the rest of American fought for freedom, Forge is hard to put down.

I loved, loved, loved Forge!  I was a little worried that it would not stand up to the high standard set by its predecessor, especially because I loved Isabel’s voice so much.  No worries- Halse Anderson immediately sweeps you into Curzon’s life and you quickly fall in love with him and his impulsiveness.  Now for the bad news……I need the third book ASAP!  (I tweeted Laurie Halse Anderson because I was afraid Forge was the last book.  No worries- Ashes is in the research stage right now!)

Like its predecessor, Forge explores a part of the Revolutionary War that most people are unfamiliar with- the thousands of African-Americans who fought for both the British and American sides.  Most students learn about the fight for freedom that our founding fathers struggled with, but very few think about the thousands of slaves who were rarely, if ever, considered.  And like Chains, this is not a boring historical fiction novel.  The informative prose is woven into the story so that it is a part of the story.  It doesn’t feel like you are reading a dry novel just meant to teach the reader some facts.  Instead, you grow to love Curzon and feel like he is a close friend.

Teachers will love the primary sources that Halse Anderson incorporates into the story.  Each chapter begins with a quote from a primary source like a diary, newspaper ad, or letter.  At times I skipped over the quote because I was so desperate to learn what happened to Curzon, but I always went back and read the quote later.  There is also a list of questions and answers at the end, in interview format.  Halse Anderson answers some questions about her research process, the real events in the story, and more.

Oh, and I think something else fantastic about Forge is that you can read it without having read Chains.  I’m not sure why you wouldn’t want to read the first book (seriously- go order a copy RIGHT NOW!), but I think teachers who are forced to choose between them will appreciate that both can stand alone.

Forge is a MUST READ.  I look forward to this book being very popular and I hope to see it on a few award lists this winter.  Halse Anderson has really knocked it out of the park again!

*Thank you to Abby for sending me an ARC of Forge!  😀