Happy NaNoWriMo Eve!

I will be working on a YA dystopian novel during the month of November.  Wishing all other writers the best of luck!


Fresh Reads for Freshmen

Now that I am teaching high school, I realized I had to change the name of my sort-of-monthly title sharing posts.  I realize I haven’t updated since last winter, but that is changing.  Now that I can use Goodreads with my students, I have constant access to what they are reading, what they think about it, and what they are planning to read.  It’s not as good as a one-on-one conference, but it helps me out a lot.

So without further ado, I introduce “Fresh Reads for Freshman”!

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World– My students attend a magnet-like school and many of them read above grade-level. Their interests are also very particular, so I have a wide variety of books being read. Many of my students, especially boys, gravitate toward nonfiction. This is just one of the many nonfiction books being read in my room at this time. I am also seeing copies of Germany 1945: From War to Peace, The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists, and Baseball in ’41: A Celebration of the .  Nonfiction is definitely more popular with my freshmen than it ever was with my sixth-graders!

But there is also a lot of fiction being read.  My ARCs are traveling around the room like wildfire.  (Sidenote- ARCs are magic.  Tell a reluctant reader that they can read a book months before anyone else, and all of a sudden they are are salivating over the book.  Coupled with how competitive my students naturally are, and it’s a perfect match!)  Right now, I am watching my ARC of Matched fly through the room. Every few days I see it on another student’s desk. And they are raving about it! Also making the rounds? Daisy Whitney’s The Mockingbirds. And I haven’t seen my copy of Sapphique in ages!

One of my students picked up my copy of Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. She couldn’t stop talking about it and convinced me to move it to the top of my pile. Now, I can’t put it down!

And the most popular series? The Hunger Games! My students are devouring the entire series. It’s awesome!

A few other books my students are reading, to give you an idea of their diversity:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero
Skeleton Creek
The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking: Book One
13 Little Blue Envelopes

Voices from the Land Workshop

A few years ago I participated in the Voices from the Land project through EIRC/Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.  Since then, I have been unable to participate in the training for a variety of reasons. But this year, my district sent me to the two day workshop because the project fits in with our curriculum so well.  I was ecstatic, even though it meant driving north, towards NYC, during rush hour. (For the record, a 50 mile journey took me almost 3 hrs this morning.  It took me 1 hr and 10 minutes to get home this evening. Ridiculous.)

Today I spent the day at the offices of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.  First of all, their LEED-certified building is amazing!  They have a living biowall, which purifies their air and it just awesome.


Inspired by Andy Goldsworthy, the Voices project combines poetry, art, ecology, biology, digital photography, design, collaborative group work, and performance.  We are walking our way through the project, just like our students would.  Today we spent 3 hours in the woods, creating ephemeral art.  Here is my group’s art:


Then we did a gallery walk, listening to the other artists’s describe their process and work, taking notes on words and concepts that struck us.  Afterwards, we spent the remainder of the day listening to poetry and writing our own.  Tomorrow we will come together and perform our poetry.  I can’t wait!

Hope in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum

Beth Fehlbaum is an inspiration- she writes AND teaches fifth grade in East Texas!  Talk about a busy woman…

Hope in Patience is the sequel to her gut-wrenching Courage in Patience (click to read my review). The Patience Books are the story of fifteen-year-old Ashley Nicole Asher, who is sexually, emotionally, and physically abused by her stepfather.  Ashley’s story in Hope in Patience follows Ashley as she  continues her rocky road to recovery.  Like many 15-year olds, she wonders what it would be like to have a boyfriend, to live a normal life, and run better during cross-country season.  She also faces the worst betrayal imaginable. Ashley’s story is about courage. About bravery. And about the power of hope, no matter how scared you think you are.

Ashley is an inspirational character.  She is strong, stronger than she even realizes.  I was thrilled when Beth contacted me to say that she had written another Patience book.  While Courage in Patience didn’t beg for a sequel, I think that young readers need to know what happened to Ashley after the events in the book.  A happy ending doesn’t just happen- it requires hard work.  Ashley doesn’t have it easy.  She scratches at her skin and tears her hair out at times because she can’t handle what is going on.  Moving forward feels impossible. But the reader is on a journey with Ashley and you want to pick her up every time she falls back.

Like its predecessor, Hope in Patience is a heart-wrenching read.  There were times I had to put the book down because the events were too difficult to continue reading.  And I really appreciate how Fehlbaum continues to protray a realistic picture of sexual abuse by following Ashley through therapy and her long road to recovery.  Her story continues to be tragic and horrific, and her road to recovery is bumpy and imperfect. There is no “normal” life for Ashley.  But there is a life for her.  And a family that loves her, even if it isn’t the traditional nuclear family.

Highly recommended, especially for fans of Beth Fehlbaum and gritty realistic fiction.  And for anyone who wants to SpeakLoudly for teens.

Matched by Ally Condie

Oh, how I love dystopian books.  When I saw that it was being handed out at BEA I made sure to make my way to Dutton’s booth well before the designated time.  I lucked out and got one of the ARCs a bit early and didn’t even have to wait on the long line that eventually formed.  Then I lost my job, got a new one, got married, and started all over again- no time to read books!  But ARCs are like magic reading pills and my students are gobbling them up (and then reviewing them on Goodreads!).  I am trying to tear through all the ARCs I have in order to bring them in. Ally Condie’s Matched was next on my pile this week and I almost made it a legitimate #bookaday!  Yes, it is that good.

Rather than spew out a summary, I will let the book jacket do that for you:

In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s barely any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one . . . until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.

I loved, loved, loved Matched!  I’ve already passed it on to my students, who are also tearing through it.  It hasn’t been back in my classroom for more than a period since I finished reading it.  I’m already desperately awaiting the sequel, which HAS to be coming.  (It’s coming, right?  Right?!)  What I really loved is that the characters in Matched are well-developed and believable. I loved Cassia and felt like she was a friend by the end of the book.  She seems like a regular teen tossed into a strange situation, and her reactions are believable, despite the dystopian premise. Cassia is a reluctant heroine for most of the book, one who doesn’t want her world turned upside down and doesn’t necessarily want to know what’s really going on.  But by the end, she has stepped into her new role as hero.  (Again, that sequel is going to happen, right?)

The similarities to The Giver will pull a lot of reader’s in, but the romance aspect will hook those who might find Lowry’s book too tedious for them. (Not me- The Giver is in my Top 10 of favorite books!).  Condie has created a frightening world where Big Brother controls everything while letting the people believe they still have some control over their own lives.  It’s frightening.

This is a coming-of-age story, an awakening, and a fight-for-it-all-never-give-up story.  I couldn’t put it down and can’t wait to read more from Ally Condie.  Her world-building is superior and I love how she fleshed out the minor characters- it allowed me to feel like I was a member of The Society, too.   While the story sometimes seems to move slow, it is all worth it in the end.  Condie masterfully weaves the Society, its rules, and its rulers into a scarily realistic possibility for humanity’s future.  Do not miss out on this one!

Cybils Nominations!

The Cybil Award nominations close tomorrow!  Remember, anyone can nominate a book.  Teachers, librarians, parents, readers, teens, grandparents- anyone!

The Rules (courtesy of the Cybil Awards website)

The rules:

  • One book per genre per person. Have two young adult books you love? Get a best friend, co-worker or random stranger to nominate the other one.
  • Anyone may nominate. Anyone! This means you. And me. And that person over there, and the guy who cut you off in traffic. Or that kid you won’t sit next to at lunch. Anyone!
  • The book must have been published between the last contest and this close of this one. In other words, between Oct. 16, 2009 and Oct. 15th 2010.
  • The book can be bilingual, but one of the languages must be English.
  • As long as a book has a nomination, it’ll be considered. You don’t need to try and nominate it over and over. The nomination form will kick it back to you anyway.

All you need is the 13-digit ISBN number, easily found on Amazon.  Now, nominations are almost closed, but there are still some great books that need to be nominated!  Looking for some ideas?


Middle Grade/YA Nonfiction:

Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made it by Michael J. Trinklein- Everyone knows the fifty states but did you know about the hundreds of other statehood proposals that never worked out? This book is a tribute to the great unrealized states of West Florida, South California, Half-Breed Tracts, Rough and Ready, and others.

Saving the Baghdad Zoo: A True Story of Hope and Heroes by Kelly Milner Halls- The true story of volunteers from all over the world who worked to save the animals of the Baghdad Zoo during the war in Iraq.

Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures by Rebecca L. Johnson- An exploration of ocean research sites all over the world who participated in the Marine Life Census from 2000-2010.

Liberty or Death: The Surprising Story of Runaway Slaves who Sided with the British During the American Revolution by Margaret Whitman Blair- The real story of African Americans during the Revolutionary War.

The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According To Susy) by Barbara Kerley- A look at Mark Twain’s life through the eyes of young Susy Clemens.

William Shakespeare: His Life and Times by Kristen McDermott- A creative biography of William Shakespeare, presented as a scrapbook made for his daughter.

Cleopatra Rules!: The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen by Vicky Alvear Shecter- I haven’t read this one yet, but the design is great and it’s gotten pretty good reviews!

YA Fiction:

The Beautiful Between by Alyssa Sheinmel- I loved this quiet coming-of-age novel set in New York City.


All of my favorite middle-grade books have been nominated.  Yay!

Deadline by Chris Crutcher

I’ve been working on catching up on all the YA titles I missed over the last five years or so.  While I read a lot of YA as a sixth grade teacher, there were certain books that I knew did not have a place in my classroom, with my particular students.  Thus, I rarely purchased those books.  (See, I justify buying books because I put them in my classroom library after I read them.  Really, I buy them for my classroom and I just get to read them first!)  Now that I teach freshmen and sophomores, there is a lot of YA I can finally add to my library.  I have been stalking book sales and finally picked up a copy of Chris Crutcher’s Deadline.

At a routine summer sports physical, Ben learns that he has a terminal blood illness.  Without treatment, he will most likely be dead within the year.  With aggressive treatment, he will most likely be dead within a year, and incapacitated for most of that time.  After considering those he loves (a mother with a mental illness, a father with too much on his plate, and a brother who is also his best friend), Ben decides not to seek treatment and not to tell anyone about his diagnosis.  As an 18-year old, he has that right, despite his doctor’s misgivings.  Ben is determined to live, really live, as normal a life as possible while trying to experience as much as he can in the following twelve months.  What follows is an amazing look at life, death, religion, love, immortality, and so much more.

Crutcher tackles a lot of tough topics in Deadline– mental illness, child molestation, death, suicide, trust, censorship, and the meaning of life/living.  But what could be a depressing book is inspiring and full of humor.  Ben’s voice is spot-on for a teenage boy, with just the right amount of self-assurance and lack of that same self-assurance.  Ben’s an 18-year old boy who knows when his life will end.  He wants to accomplish great things: confronting the bigotry in his town, helping his brother secure a college football scholarship, and trying to help his mother heal.  But Ben also wants to accomplish typical teenage boy goals: hooking up with Dallas Suzuki (the girl of his dreams), playing a great game of football, and annoying his least-favorite teacher as much as possible.

Deadline is a fantastic book and one I highly recommend for high school libraries.  It has some mature themes, so I wouldn’t have shared it with my sixth graders, but it definitely has a place in any upper school library.

National Book Award Nominees- Young People’s Literature

Today is one of my favorite days of the year….the announcement of the National Book Award nominees!  I love the NBA because the nominees are always so varied and sometimes seem to come out of nowhere.  But the books are always amazing, and I love being introduced to new authors and books.

This year, the judges for the Young People’s Literature category are:

Laban Carrick Hill

Kelly Link

Tor Seidler

Hope Anita Smith

Sara Zarr


2010 National Book Awards Young Peoples Literature:

Paolo Bacigalupi, “Ship Breaker”
Kathryn Erskine, “Mockingbird”
Laura McNeal, “Dark Water”
Walter Dean Myers, “Lockdown”
Rita Williams-Garcia, “One Crazy Summer”


Great books! Definitely trending a bit younger than last year. I would consider a lot of the nominees to be on the upper-end of middle grade, whereas as last year’s nominees trended more YA.  I have got to get a copy of Shipbreaker, though!  It’s been on my “must-read” list for a while and this will be my impetus to get it.



Yes, I am crazy.  Yes, I am super busy and overextended.  Yes, I also need to read many Cybils books in the new 6-8 weeks. Yes, November does mean a few extra days off from school, thankfully!

Yes, I am signing up for NaNoWriMo again.  Are you?  Do you want to be writing buddies?  I need the competition to keep me going!

My New Job

I love, love, love my new job.  I promised updates here on the blog and I have been terrible about keeping everyone informed.  Here’s a quick summary of my year so far:

I teach freshman and seniors.  My senior class is a new curriculum focused on 21st century literacies.  I teach two modules (one marking period each)- The Environment and The Human Condition.  We just finished reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet and my students created Twitter accounts for a particular character and tweeted the major events of the play through their eyes.  The projects were AWESOME!  I am having so much fun that it shouldn’t even be allowed.  We have also been reading Janne Teller’s Nothing as a class and it fits with our human condition theme perfectly.  The students enjoy being read to and the book really shocks them over and over.  They have been referring to it during our Socratic Seminars and in written responses.

It does take a while to get a read aloud done, because I only see my seniors 3 times per week, for 70 minutes each time.  It’s easy to fit the read aloud in most days, but the continuity isn’t always there.  I haven’t started doing the read aloud with my freshmen classes yet because I team teach and I haven’t figured out a way to fit it in yet.  (Yes, it kills me that we don’t have a read aloud, and I do notice the difference in the sense of community-reading, but I will get to it!)

My freshman classes are great, too.  I team teach, as I said, teaching in-sync with the history teacher.  We have two rooms that share a dividing wall, which has not been closed all year.  My curriculum follows the history curriculum, which is World Cultures/World History.  For example, I just taught excerpts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales while my students studied the Middle Ages in history.  I am still finding my footing re: the team teaching, but I love it so far.

Technology-wise, my new school is unreal.  We are a math, science, and technology-focused so all of the students expect us to use a lot of technology.  I use Edmodo to post homework and host backchannel chats while we view movies/hold Socratic Seminars.  It’s fantastic.

I also had all of my students sign up for Goodreads.  So far, my students are just posting books for their 40-Book Challenge and friending each other, but I plan to host book discussions and much more soon.  I will also have the students posting reviews of books they read.  A few have already done so on their own!  Right now I am enjoying watching my students post their books and commenting on them.  I see my students 3-4 times per week and the Goodreads group is a great way to  continue talking about books outside of class.

My new job is absolutely amazing.  I am constantly being challenged, I love my students, my colleagues are brilliant, and love being able to use technology all the time.  🙂