Thumped by Megan McCafferty

Last November, while at NCTE, I was ecstatic when I checked the program and realized I would have the opportunity to meet Megan McCafferty. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I read Sloppy Firsts (Jessica Darling, Book 1).  Jessica and I are kindred spirits.  I also read and reviewed Bumped when it was released. Megan doesn’t live to far from me but I’ve never been able to make it to any of her local signings.  Needless to say, I was very happy that I would get a chance to meet her, even if it was in Chicago instead of NJ!

I waited on the long line for Megan (one of the only lines I waited on at NCTE!) and I was looking forward to getting a copy of Bumped signed (which I reviewed here).  When I got closer to the table where they were selling the paperbacks, I almost fainted.  They had ARCs of Thumped on the table! Thumped was scheduled for an April release, so I was not expecting to see ARCs at NCTE, in November. My day was pretty much made. The only thing that made it better was getting my ARC signed by Megan, who was a complete sweetheart. She even recognized me from blogging and Twitter. 🙂

I read Thumped as soon as I got home because I had a waiting list for it. My colleague, who teaches Biology, had really enjoyed the first book in the series, so I wanted to pass it on to him. I read Thumped in one sitting and absolutely loved it.

Thumped is awesome.  Absolutely awesome.  I recommend the series to upper-YA readers and adults.  In a culture where millions of people watch sixteen-year old girls give birth and raise their babies on TV, McCafferty has crafted a speculative dystopian world that resembles our own a little too much.  You know the saying “too close for comfort”? That’s what McCafferty has crafted in these books.
Thumped picks up about eight months after the first volume left off. Harmony is back with her church family and Melody is the pregnant girl.  Think Beyonce’s pregnancy times a million.  Her every move is calculated and tracked by her fans.  Both girls are about to give birth, but it’s not as simple as it seems.  Before either girl gives birth, they are brought together once again and some tough decisions are made.  I can’t tell you much more because it will give it away.  Just know that this is a book you won’t be able to put down once you start it.

The best part of McCafferty’s writing in these books is the world building.  The slang she uses is intense but you quickly slip into the world she has created and the language becomes your language.   I know the word choice made it difficult for some readers to get through the first volume, but it’s really the best part of the book for me.

And you know what else I love?  The sarcasm in these books.  People, I am sarcastic. Seriously. All. the.time.  It’s a problem.  And I know that there were some people who took issue with the premise of these books and seemed to miss the whole point- it’s a satire.  But it’s the best kind of satire; the type that makes the reader really think.  You will close this book and you will wonder how we can ensure this doesn’t happen in our world.  I think teens will read this pair of books and think about the repercussions of having babies when they are still a child themselves. These aren’t books you can finish and file away in the back of your mind.  These books are intended to make you think and think you will!

Highly recommended for mature readers.  As with the first volume, I’d recommend reading it yourself before placing it in a classroom library, but I think it is a valuable addition to any library.  Definitely a high school book (and even college!), but I wouldn’t recommend it for middle school readers.


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Updated 9th Grade Summer Reading (F and NF)

Last year,  I shared the summer reading list that my colleagues and I developed for our incoming 9th graders.

Recently, our team sat down to hammer out summer reading.  (nota bene: I am not a fan of prescribed summer reading, but I do believe that students should read during the summer.  I believe in choice. Plus, my students are highly motivated and expect to read!)   I wanted to capitalize on our inter-disciplinary team and I’m so thrilled with what we came up with.  First, we decided to have One Book, One Class. All of the incoming freshman will be reading Brian Christian’s The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive for two reasons.  First, Brian is an alum and we expect the kids to love that.  Second, the book (review coming soon!) is a perfect composite of our cross-curricular team.  It covers science, language, communication, computers, history, and so much more.  All of the freshman will have this touchstone text and the teachers will be reading it, too.

In addition, each student is asked to select one fiction and one non-fiction title from the list we provide.  On the list, we also noted our own favorites, in case students were seeking guidance.  I am thrilled with this list- it provides a wide array of choices in a variety of genres and across many levels (keep in mind my students are all accelerated, so while it is a 9th grade list, it may read more like a 10th-11th grade list).

I recently finished updating the list for the class of 2016.  I didn’t make too many changes, but I did add and subtract a few books to keep the list fresh.  I also took into acocnt the advice my current freshman shared with me about their favorites from the list.  You can find the updated list below.

All incoming freshman are asked to read the following selection:

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive by Brian Christian  (HTHS Class of 2002)

In addition, each student is asked to select one fiction and one non-fiction title from the table on the reverse side of this sheet.

You are to read TWO of these books this summer for your BASH (Biology, Applications of Software, Humanities) courses. You must read one fiction book and one non-fiction book. We hope you enjoy your reading and look forward to discussing your thoughts when you arrive in September.

A Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams Collapse or  Guns, Germs, and Steelby Jared Diamond jao
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card mtr As The Future Catches You: How Genomics & Other Forces Are Changing Your Life, Work, Health & Wealth by Juan Enriquez mtr
Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster smg
House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
The Fault in Our Starsby John Green smg Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heigelman
Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope  by William Kamkwamba
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork  The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elementsby Sam Kean
The Road by Cormac McCarthy Measuring America by Andro Linklater jao
CatalystBy Laurie Halse Anderson A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink
Unwind by Neal Shusterman Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacksby Rebecca Skloot
Boy21 by Matthew Quick smg Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein smg
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
by Aimee Bender
Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss
Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasely 
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch . . . and What It Takes to Win by Judy Dutton











  • The books listed above represent a wide range of choices and reading levels to meet the varied needs and backgrounds of all of our students. We trust each student to self-select the books most appropriate for them.  Feel free to try out more than two choices in order to find the best books for you.

  • An APB for Friendly Publishing Folks! (Please RT!)

    This summer, I am running a camp for bookworms.  Inspired by Thalia’s Book Camp, run by Symphony Space in NYC, I will be spending a week at our local community college with 7th, 8th, and 9th graders who love to read.  Before camp, they will read Ashfall, Breadcrumbs, and Tankborn (I am so excited about all of these books!).  Over the course of 5 days, I am planning to do a few author Skype visits, writing activities, mini book groups, and other activities connected to the books.  I’m brainstorming as you read this.

    But something else I would love to do is connect with folks in the publishing world.  We can’t go to NYC, but I’d love to have an editor, cover designer, agent, or anyone else in publishing Skype in for a few minutes and talk to the kids about their work.  All of the attendees are guaranteed to be bookworms, but I doubt they have much knowledge about the process of making books.  It would be a great experience for them!

    I’m hoping to reach out to people who read the blog.  We wouldn’t take up much of your time- maybe 25-30 minutes? If you are interested in talking to the kids, it would be during the week of August 13th-17th.  Please email me  ( if you have questions or if you are interested.  Thanks so much!



    *Feel free to pass this blog post around!  Thanks!

    Final Four by Paul Volponi

    Despite working on my National Board portfolio almost non-stop during March, I did make time to read a few books and watch March Madness.  March Madness is my favorite time of year and I love rooting for the Cinderella teams, the underdogs, the surprises.  When I received a copy of Paul Volponi’s The Final Four from the publisher, I made sure that I put on top of my TBR pile.  I read it between the second and third rounds and it was better than any game I watched on TV.  This is a fantastic book and one I highly recommend for high school libraries.  I also think it will appeal to middle school readers.

    The book is told over the course of overtime in a single Final Four game.  The reader sees the game through the eyes of four individual players, with snippets shared from the announcers and newspaper articles.  Malcolm is a boy from the inner city whose sister was killed in a drive-by shooting. He is only interested in looking out for himself and he is a one-and-done player, leaving for the NBA as soon as the season ends. MJ, Michael Jordan (the most unfortunate name for a boy who likes basketbal, who is trying to do well in school and make a better life for himself. Roko, a Croatian teen whose uncle was killed by the mafia in his home country, is trying to honor his uncle’s memory. Crispin is from Louisiana and is engaged to the head cheerleader, but suddenly isn’t sure it’s what either of them should be doing.  All four players come with baggage and they all have to contribute in the final moments of the most important game of their life.

    The set-up is spot-on.  I felt like I was watching the game and I was on the edge of my seat throughout the book.  All four players ring true and the background information is great.  And this isn’t just an action-packed story about a basketball game.  Volponi forces the reader to think about the money and prestige that come along with NCAA basketball.  Is it enough to “pay” college athletes with a free education when their school is potentially making millions off of their work on the court? Should college players be allowed to play a single season and then move into the NBA at 18 or 19 years old?

    Volponi is a great realistic fiction writer and all of his novels are must-haves for high school libraries.  The Final Four is another slam dunk from Volponi and I can’t recommend it enough.  Even those who don’t particularly like basketball will find themselves pulled into the world that is NCAA March Madness.


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    What Kids Are Reading, 2012 – Why It Doesn’t Matter

    I’ve been stewing over this study for a few weeks now.  Back when it started making the rounds on Twitter I was busy finishing up my National Board portfolio and I only had time to skim the study and make a few passing remarks to my PLN.  But today I was able to sit down and read it cover-to-cover. Boy, do I have a lot to say.

    Anyone who has been reading my blog since the beginning knows how I feel about Accelerated Reader.  When I taught sixth grade I worked very hard to grow my students into readers.  Inevitably, though, they moved on to the local middle school, which utilized AR, and their growth stopped.  I documented a specific example back in 2009.  I know every school is different and that my experience does not represent all experiences but I fear that student’s experience is all too common.

    Needless to say, Renaissance Learning’s annual study gets me all riled up.  I am going to focus on the 9-12 list here, but I imagine that the statistics would ring true regardless of grade level.  According to Renaissance Learning, the 9-12 list represents “388,963 ninth–twelfth graders … during the 2010–11 school year.”  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “In fall 2011, over 49.4 million students will attend public elementary and secondary schools. Of these…14.5 million will be in grades 9 through 12 (source) . An additional 6.0 million students are expected to attend private schools (source).”  In other words, if I am doing my math correctly, the study represents the Top 40 reading choices made by 2.8% of secondary students in the United States.  That’s a pretty small sample size.  The study doesn’t mention this, but anecdotally I know that many secondary schools utilize AR for below-grade level readers who are placed into ‘enrichment’ reading classes in order to increase their reading instruction. AR is a one-and-done curriculum solution in that you just need a proctor to watch the students read and take quizzes.  In these times of budget crises across the country, it’s a simple solution for too many schools.  So the sample most likely includes a large number of below-grade level readers to begin with.

    Also speaking anecdotally, many of my former students readily admit to choosing the easiest books from the AR list for a variety of reasons.  For those who enjoy reading, the easy books are fast reads that let them get their AR requirement over and done with quickly.  And many students will tell you that they read easy books because the AR quizzes are so ridiculously hard to pass.  Easy books hopefully means quizzes that the students can pass.  It’s been a  few years since  I’ve had the opportunity to see an AR test, but those I did see were nothing but rote memorization.  Basic recall questions about setting and minor characters don’t prove that a student can read critically or think critically. I remember a conversation on Twitter last year where various YA authors were wondering if they would be able to pass their own AR quizzes- for the books they wrote!

    I have no idea why the lists are broken down into individual grade levels for K-8 but 9-12 are lumped together- that’s not consistent and affects the overall list.  But I’m going to work with what I have and just look at the overall list of popular books for grades 9-12.

    The most popular book is The Hunger Games.  Is anyone surprised by this? It’s a gateway book for thousands of readers!  I know elementary school students, middle school students, high school students, and adults who have started reading again because Collins’ book pulled them into the vortex.  I have no issue with this being the most popular book for secondary students.  The themes are worthy and there is a lot to talk about.  Catching Fire is also found in the top ten, followed by Mockingjay.

    The next three books are curriculum books.  Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Night, Animal Farm- would anyone argue that our students shouldn’t read these books?  My guess is these books are required reading in many schools and they count towards AR points, so the majority of the surveyed students read them.  Plus, three  of four are under 120 pages.  My guess? They are offered as part of a list and lots of kids pick the shortest books.  However, all three books are extraordinarily important books!  While their readability might be 4th/5th grade according to Renaissance Learning, I think there is a lot more to reading level than running text through an algorithm. Would I hand Night to a fourth grader?  Most likely no!  The themes and ideas are well above an elementary school reading level.  The same goes for the allegorical tale in Animal Farm. I read it as a 3rd grader because I read at a high school level and a teacher thought I should read books appropriate for my reading level.  You know what I got out of it at eight years old? A weird story about farm animals.  I didn’t have the background knowledge to fully understand the book!  I needed to grow up before the book would be important to me.  And guess what? If I reread Animal Farm today I would have a different interpretation than I did as a college student.  We grow and change and books grow and change with us, regardless of their text readability.

    There are also a bunch of Nicholas Sparks’ books in the top 40.  Hmm, Sparks also makes many appearances on the NYT Best Seller list.  I have no issue with that.  Many adults read Nicholas Sparks so why should we fault high schoolers for picking up those same books?  Is he a fantastic writer? No sir. But does he get kids reading? Hell yes!

    I have a big problem with the readability scores given to many of the classics on the list and that’s where the problem lies. Romeo and Juliet is listed as an 8.6 reading level and I think that explains why many of my gifted and talented students read it as a whole-class book in middle school.  Inevitably, they read it for 5 months, fill out countless worksheets, and still consider it a love story.  I teach the play in ninth grade and the number of students who read it in 6th grade astounds me.  Just because they are reading at a high school reading level doesn’t mean they can or should identify with R+J as eleven year olds!

    You know what I would like to see?  The readability scores of the books that experts think HS students should be reading.  Last time I checked, lots of experts were decrying the lack of classics put into the hands of secondary students.  Classics were going to save us!  Only classics were worth reading!  Well, according to this list plenty of students are reading classics. But now the classics aren’t good enough because their readability school is too low.  So then what is the answer? How about we let students read what they want to read independently and as teachers, we push them to a higher level in class.  Get to know your students as readers. They like The Hunger Games? Awesome!  Hand them other books with similar themes. How about The Road by Cormac McCarthy? Oh wait- the ATOS readability is just 4.0 for McCarthy’s National Book Award winner.   Or 1984?  Ok, the ATOS for that one is 8.9  Phew!  I guess that one is ok for kids to read.

    Here’s the problem as I see it- nonfiction rates as more complex than fiction.  That makes sense to me.  (Check out for the ATOS levels of various books. Once you get into upper grade books, the majority of offerings are primary source documents and books from history.  Very little science, almost no literature, a smidgen of math-related books).

    Here’s the deal- NF books are expensive. Librarians have little money nowadays and they stretch what they do have. They order the books that get them the most bang for their buck and that means getting kids into the library and getting teachers to use the books.  That doesn’t leave a lot of money for lots of new NF. And publishers are part of the problem, too. My students (boys especially) crave NF. But there isn’t a lot of secondary level NF that isn’t a textbook.  Someone get on that!

    We do need to have students read more NF in school and increase the complexity of what they read.  I fully support this, which is why I support the Common Core Standards in theory (I worry about how they will be put into practice, though).  I love that the CCS ask content area teachers to include more reading and writing. Students should be reading primary texts in history. They should learn to read articles from scientific journals in science. I love having my students read the NYTimes in humanities. But do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? Absolutely not!

    Humanity craves stories. We need stories. And stories are frequently fiction.  Our students can and should read YA, middle grade, adult books- whatever interests them. And we should take them by the hand in school and move them into more complex texts across the content areas.  Many adults read the newspaper daily and read novels, too. Why can’t we trust our students to do the same?

    My students read Chaucer and Shakespeare in class.  We read Achebe and Adichie, Golding and Sophocles.  But you know what? My students also read Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Paul Volponi, Matthew Quick, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Sarah Dessen. They gain a lot from those experiences, too.

    Renaissance Learning is a corporation. They need students and they need school districts.  More importantly, they don’t make money if students are reading independently in classrooms like those belonging to Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Paul Hankins, or Nancie Atwell.  They make money  when students must be forced to read and when they don’t read well. Why are we swallowing their study hook, line, and sinker?

    Doodle storming #TED2012 in the Classroom

    A few weeks ago I did a unit on visual note-taking with my students.  I’ve been fascinated by visual notes (or #viznotes, sketchnotes, etc) for a few months now and I think they are a great way for students to get engaged with lectures.  I looked at a lot of examples and realized that TED talks were the perfect entrance into visual notetaking.  My students started by looking at examples of visual notes and then trying their own while we listened to a TED talk in class.  Then, for the next week or so they chose a TED talk to watch for homework each night and completed at least a page of visual notes.

    THIS WAS AWESOME.  My kids had the opportunity to watch at least 10 TED talks about subjects they were passionate about. They started sharing TED talks and making recommendations to me and their classmates.  My more visual learners excelled at sketch notes and were great about helping their classmates. And those, like me, who aren’t artistic?  They also had a great time stretching their brains and trying something new. You don’t need to be an artist to take visual notes- you just need to be willing to try something new.

    Towards the end of the unit I had the students watch Peter Diamandis’ TED talk from TED 2012: Full Spectrum.  They watched Abundance is Our Future in silence, taking their own notes.  Then, I had them collaborate on our whiteboards, coming up with one class set of notes.  It was a great experience and one I highly recommend!  Below are the results.



    Some resources on visual notes/notetaking:


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    • Titanic – Genuine 1912 Footage. This newsreel (without the music)would have been shown in the cinemas at the time of the disaster. Footage includes the Titanic leaving Belfast Lough for Southampton on April 2nd, 1912. Captain Smith on the Bridge of the Titanic. The video also shows various ships such the Carparthia returning from rescuing survivors. Journalists interviewing survivors. Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of long distance radio transmission and who was credited with saving those who were saved because of his marvelous invention.

      Although it says this was shot on April 2nd, 2012, British Pathe think it was probably earlier. The ship still looks like work is being done to it with lots of workmen still around. The Titanic’s name is in black as is other parts of the ship which ultimately ended up as white. There is also a workman’s loo which can clearly be seen dangling off the left hand side of the ship – this surely would have been removed before setting sail. 

      tags: titanic nighttoremember

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