Thrive-The Book Every Teacher Should Read

I’ve known Meenoo Rami through Twitter for a few years and we have worked together on #engchat for the past couple of years.  We met in person at NCTE Las Vegas (despite the fact that we live only an hour or so away from each other!) and I was blown away by her passion and dedication to the teaching profession.  Needless to say, when her new book Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching was published a few weeks ago I read it cover to cover. (Ok, to be fair, Meenoo also asked me to write a few paragraphs for the book, so there were a few reasons I wanted to read it immediately…haha)

Thrive  is a book I want to send to every teacher I know.  I want every teacher education department to give it to their teacher babies.  I want to hand it out at every PD session I attend.  It’s just that amazing.

It’s a tough time to be a teacher.  We all see it and sometimes it’s hard not to feel beaten down.  But Meenoo’s book is a bright light in the darkness.  She learned early in her career that teaching can be a lonely career if you don’t reach out to the community around you.  In Thrive she shares the strategies that she uses in her professional life and the ways that teachers can apply them to their own.  I’ve seen this firsthand through Twitter and Meenoo was one of the first teachers who reached out and walked me through community-building on the network.  When I stumbled upon #engchat I knew I had found one of my tribes and I’ve been a fixture in the chat ever since.  There are days when my Twitter PLN keeps me sane and I’m so glad Meenoo has captured the importance of that community in her book.

But it’s not all about social media.  No!  Meenoo shares ways that teachers can reach out to colleagues in their departments, their buildings, their local and national professional organizations, and much more.  Teaching is a profession that works best when we mentor others and allows ourselves to be mentored. Thrive is perfect for first-year teachers who are just entering this crazy world of education, and it’s also the rejuvenating spark that veteran teachers need! We should be reaching out and helping our colleagues while also recognizing that teachers are life-long learners who can learn from their colleagues and students.

Thrive will help you (re)discover the joy in teaching.  I can’t wait to give a copy to my student teacher. And my sister. And my best friend.  I imagine Thrive sitting on the shelf next to Harry Wong’s First Days of School and other vital teaching resources.  It’s that important.  Be sure to pick up a copy today!

Make sure you are following Meenoo on Twitter because she is always sharing ideas and inspiration. And check out her  blog!

Be sure to check out some of the other stops on the Thrive blog tour!

Yesterday: Kira Baker Doyle at Kira J Baker-Doyle, Ph.D.

Tomorrow: Christina Cantrill at Digital Is (National Writing Project)

 

 

 

 

Meenoo Rami is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches her students English at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. Mixing moments of joy, laughter, risk and encouragement, Meenoo pushes her students to think critically about their connection to the word and the world. Meenoo did her undergraduate work at Bradley University in Illinois in areas of Philosophy and English and completed her Master’s degree in Secondary Education at Temple University.  Meenoo also contributes to the work of school-wide events and professional learning communities at SLA. Meenoo works as a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project. She has shared her classroom practice at various conferences  such as: NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, EduCon, Urban Sites Conference for National Writing Project, and #140edu. Meenoo also runs a weekly twitter chat for English teachers called #engchat which brings together teachers from around the country to discuss ideas related to teaching of English. Her first book, THRIVE  from Heinemann will be out in March 2014. In her free time, Meenoo can be found on her bike, on her yoga mat or in her kitchen tinkering with a vegetarian recipe.  

To connect with Meenoo, you can find her on these social media networks:

Thrive

meenoorami.org

Twitter

Facebook

Google Plus

 

 

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer is Out Today!

Last month I reviewed an ARC of Eliot Schrefer’s new novel, Threatened .  Today is the day it’s released in stores and you must pick up a copy!

 

Here’s an excerpt from my review:

This is a book that will grab you by the heartstrings and leave you gasping out loud. Heartbreaking, tragic, and triumphant, you will want to reach into the pages and help Luc and the chimpanzees in turn. There are no easy answers in Threatened, and I think that’s what I love most about it.  It’s a story about tragedy, triumph, conservation, AIDs, eco-tourism, Gabon, imperialism, the past, and the future.

 

Perfect for high schools and middle schools, I’d love to see this read across disciplines.  It brings together language, science, ethics, current events, history, and so much more.  It will spark conversation and maybe even action.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

Know this- I do not read e-ARCs.  I try to avoid reading ebooks because I spend enough of my time on the computer as it is so I don’t need to add more screens to my life.  As a result, you will find me reading ebooks while traveling or as part of committee work.

Except for this book.  I made an exception for this one and it was so worth it.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory will rip your heart our, stomp on it, throw it against the wall, and then pick it up and put it back together again.

Hayley and her father, a war vet, have spent the last five years on the road.  He drives a truck and she rides alongside, taking care of him.  Struggling with demons, haunted by what he saw in Iraq, her father spends his time moving from town to town, never staying in one place for very long.  Hayley looks out for him, acting as his parent in a reversal of roles.  But now they are living in her grandmother’s house and her father is determined to settle down so Hayley can go to school and graduate on time.

But her father’s PTSD only gets worse and there’s only so much Hayley can do.  She can’t take care of herself and her father.  Can she save him from himself?  Can she save herself?

The Impossible Knife of Memory  is unputdownable.  Laurie Halse Anderson handles PTSD and the effects of war in a deft and powerful manner.  It’s not just our vets who suffer, but also their families.  Hayley’s voice is spot-on, as Anderson has an uncanny knack for capturing the teen voice.  But her actions, as her father’s support system and caretaker, are also inherently teen.  How much can we expect teenagers to take on?  How much do we know about what they deal with when they leave our classrooms?  Anderson brings forth these questions and many more.

Dealing with other issues ranging from education funding, to teenage herd mentality, to drug abuse, Laurie Halse Anderson manages to craft a heartbreaking story that still manages to leave the reader with hope.  Highliy recommended for all readers, I think The Impossible Knife of Memory  has a lot of crossover appeal and I expect to see it mentioned on many awards lists later this year.

Thank you to Laurie Halse Anderson for giving us stories that no one else is able to write.  Powerful and thought-provoking, this is a book for all ages.

Jessica Darling’s It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection by Megan McCafferty

It’s no secret that I love and adore Jessica Darling and Megan McCafferty.  Jessica Darling is my spirit animal.  She is my bosom buddy.  Sometimes I think she is me.  I’ve read the Sloppy Firsts series multiple times and I have recommended it to many friends.  So when I read that McCafferty signed a deal to write a middle grade series starring Jessica Darling I was thrilled.  I was even more excited when I was randomly chosen to receive an ARC from a contest on Twitter.  As soon as the book arrived I sat down and read it in one sitting.

If there are middle school girls in your life, I highly recommend Jessica Darling’s It List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness & Perfection.  This is the first in a series where Jessica  is trying to navigate middle school by following advice from her older sister, who provides her with a guide to being on the “It list”.

The voice is distinctly Jessica Darling but is age appropriate.  She’s sarcastic and a realist, but appropriately so for a middle schooler.   Jessica does her best to follow her older sister Bethany’s advice as she begins her time Pineville Junior High. But Jessica is not her sister and things are not as easy as the  list makes them seem. Making Cheer team? Hanging out with the cool crowd? Dressing right?  Any middle schooler who has struggled to fit in will identify with Jessica and her witty, sarcastic voice will make them laugh as they see themselves in her.

I can’t wait to share this series with my middle schoolers and ninth graders.  I think it will be a perfect introduction to Jessica Darling and will make many of them want to pick up the Sloppy Firsts series.  I am also recommending it to anyone who knows and loves Jessica Darling already.  Meeting her, Bridget, and the rest of the gang (MARCUS FLUTIE!!!) as 7th graders is a fun look at the world of Pineville before Jessica grows into herself.  I am looking forward to the rest of the series!

Forgive Me Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

The first day of school is imminent and this new YA book is one that I want to make sure all high school teachers place in their classroom library. What Speak did for awareness of sexual assault, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock will do for teen suicide and depression. It’s a must read for every teacher. It’s not an easy read by any means, but it is an important one.

It’s Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday and he is prepared to end his life.  But before he does that he packs a gun in his backpack and makes a plan to kill his former best friend.  It’s about Leonard’s last day on earth and it’s intense, heartbreaking, and gut-wrenching. I won’t tell you more because you need to meet Leonard and get to know him in order to fully appreciate the story.

I read Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock in one sitting and it was intense.  Quick’s writing will make you uncomfortable and you might want to put the book down.  Don’t.  It’s vital that you finish Leonard’s story and that you listen to all of the characters.  They are well-written and realistic– even the less-than-perfect characters.  There are no easy answers for Leonard or those around him, just like there are no easy answers in life.  And that’s why this book is so important.

 

A must-have for all high school libraries and a must-read for adults who work with teenagers.  Be aware that there are swear words liberally scattered throughout the pages, but they are important to the voice of the characters.  This is a book about very important issues- school violence, suicide, bullying– and those issues are life-altering.  The language fits and it’s appropriate.

Hide and Seek by Kate Messner

I don’t read a lot of middle grade books now that I teach high school, but there are certain authors I always read.  Kate Messner is one of those authors.  A few weeks ago I finally got a chance to read her newest novel Hide and Seek.  As usual, it did not disappoint.

The second in her series, this mystery is perfect for middle grade readers.  José, Anna, and Henry are junior members of the secret Silver Jaguar Society, sworn to protect the world’s most important artifacts. In this adventure,  they discover that the society’s treasured Jaguar Cup, which members have whispered about for generations, has been stolen and replaced with a counterfeit.  The kids and their families soon rush to the rain forests of Costa Rica in search of the real Jaguar Cup. The adults try to keep the kids out of the mess, but of course that never works.  When they are left on their own at an eco-resort, they begin their own investigation. Middle grade readers will find themselves on the edge of their seats as they race alongside José, Anna, and Henry, in search of the cup before it disappears forever!

Highly recommended for the fast-paced mystery,  the realistic middle-school characters,and the amazing setting.

But here’s the thing.  Kate is going to get me in trouble because after reading Hide and Seek I need to visit Costa Rica.  In fact, the night I finished the book I emailed Kate and asked her where she stayed on her research trip and for any other advice she might have.  That’s how good the setting is.  That’s how magical Kate’s words are- she brings the rain forest to life. Plus, she shared a bit about her research trip here, here, and here!

I’m still looking into a trip to Costa Rica and I hope it happens in the future.  If it does, I will thank Kate Messner for introducing me to the amazing eco-lodge profiled in Hide and Seek!

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park is one of those books that crawls into your heart and sets up shop.  The cover is quiet and unassuming, and the flap copy might make you think this is a typical YA love story.  It seems like it will be full of YA tropes and cliches, but fear not.  It’s anything but typical.

Eleanor doesn’t have it easy.  She’s one of five children and her mother is married to a real jerk. She a father who just doesn’t seem to care at all and is largely absent from her life.  She shares a bedroom with her four siblings and spends her time at home tip-toeing around her stepfather.  But on the bus, Park steps up and shares his seat with her.  Over the next few weeks, they slowly begin sharing music, comic books and conversation. They are both geeks, which I love.  (Seriously, how much more can I love lines like this? ““You can be Han Solo,” he said, kissing her throat. “And I’ll be Boba Fett. I’ll cross the sky for you.”). Over the course of the book you watch Eleanor and Park fall truly, deeply, fantastically, and realistically in love.  Their love is big, but sometimes life is bigger.  It’s not easy relationship but you will root for them more than you do for some of you real-life friends.

Both characters are fully realized and fleshed out.  You will love Eleanor and Park and find yourself just wanting to hug them.  They are real teenagers and your heart will ache for them.  Life is out of their control but they do what they can to make the best of it.  And oh their best is just beautiful.

I can’t recommend Eleanor & Park enough.  If you love contemporary YA, John Green, or realistic love stories you must pick this up.  And make sure you have time, because you will want to read it one sitting.  And that’s high praise from me for a contemporary YA read. I fully expect to see this one on award lists at the end of the year.  It’s just that perfect.

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

Endangered won’t be released until October 1st, but I am publishing this early so that you can place your pre-orders now.  Endangered was hands-down the best book I read this summer.  I read it straight through, in the middle of the night, because I could not put it down.  The book made it’s way to the top of my TBR pile after I tweeted a request for realistic YA with a focus on science.  When a few Twitter pals recommended Eliot Schrefer’s upcoming book I remembered seeing a few mentions of the book at BEA back in May.  The ARC quickly climbed to the top of my TBR pile and I am very glad it did.  Like I said, it was my favorite book of the summer!

For those of you who don’t know me in real life, I am a science girl.  I went to a pre-engineering and science high school and spent my first year of college struggling to decide between English and biology as a major.  I was a part of Project SUPER during my freshman year in college, which “is an enrichment program for undergraduate women interested in pursuing the sciences, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.”  We visited labs all over campus, met with mentors, and participated in research.  In the end, I became an education major with a double major in English.  However, I am still a science girl at heart.  All you have to do is look at my involvement with the Monarch Teacher Network to know that!

Back on the subject of Endangered.  Books about animals, with a focus on biology or conservation, are my bread and butter.  For some reason, there is a severe lack of these books in YA.  (Other than dystopian, science fiction books).  But Endangered is the book to beat all books in the genre!  It’s real, it’s gritty, and it will break your heart.  But the best part is the science is all real and the desperate need for conservation is all too real in a part of the world that often can’t feed it’s people, let along focus on the innocent creatures surrounding them.

Endangered is the truly exceptional story of Sophie, a teenage girl whose mother runs a bonobo sanctuary in Congo.  Bonobos are our closest relatives (we share 98% of our DNA, more than chimps) and they are surprisingly human-like.  However, they live in the war-torn Congo and are in danger of becoming the first great apes to become extinct under our watch.  Sophie’s mother works alongside the government to raise orphaned bonobos in order to release them into the wild later in life.  But when Sophie personally rescues Otto, an orphaned bonobo, she becomes attached to him.

But Sophie and Otto’s lives are in danger when a coup threatens the stability of the country.  Sophie and Otto are forced to flee into the jungle in order to survive and they must make their way to safety.  Together, alongside some of the surviving bonobos from the sanctuary, they must fight to stay alive amidst revolution and chaos.

I can not recommend this book enough.  However, be aware that it is a war story, and thus I would recommend it for high school readers and not those in middle school.  It’s also full of facts that are woven seamlessly into the narrative.  I’d love to have my students read this as we study imperialism in Africa.  It’s a natural ladder to (and even from) Achebe and Adichi’s works.  Endangered is a tale of survival amid violence and Schrefer doesn’t shy away from the gory details at times.  And because those details sometimes involve mistreated animals, I found it hard to read at times.  However, I also could not stop reading.  And that’s the magic of Endangered.

I finished the book a few weeks ago and it’s still on my mind.  I immediately passed it on to my co-worker who teaches biology.  I plan to place it on my list of recommended summer reads next year.  And I can’t wait to booktalk to my students.  It’s the perfect mix of humanity, history, biology, conservation, compassion, the human condition, and current events.  I find myself still researching bonobos as I type this!

Highly, highly recommended.  And I fully expect to hear this title brought up in many awards conversations.

(Eliot Schrefer will be presenting at NCTE in November.  I know I can’t wait to be a part of that audience!)

 

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

When I attended BEA in May, a publicist at Bloomsbury and Walker Books handsold me an ARC of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. She won me over with her description of a kick-butt heroine and the comparisons to Game of Thrones.  A lot of my students are big fans of Game of Thrones so I am always on the lookout for more readalikes.  Later, I read blurbs that compared Maas’ story to Megan Whalen Turner, who is a veritable genius of the fantasy genre.

Throne of Glass began it’s life on the website FictionPress a few years ago and amassed a huge following.  There are many, many reviews of the original online.  However, the original is no longer available and it sounds like I might have enjoyed that version more.  Not that there is anything wrong with the published version.  I think it will have many fans and I know a lot of my students will really enjoy it.  I was just hoping for less of a love story, and apparently the love triangle was an addition made in the move from FictionPress to publication.  But don’t get me wrong- this is a book that I think the intended audience will love and I highly recommend it for high school classroom libraries.

Adarlan’s Assassin has been imprisoned in the salt mines doing hard labor since she was seventeen.  But after being enslaved for the past year she is suddenly chosen to meet with the Prince.  He has chosen her as his champion in a twisted competition being run by the king.  Should Celaena win the competition she will become the King’s Assassin and eventually earn her freedom.

I enjoyed the story a lot, but it wasn’t exactly what I was promised.  I wanted an epic story, high fantasy, and a story I could not put down.  The sword fights were great and I loved some of the characters.  But it was not an epic story and there were very few similarities to Megan Whalen Turner or Game of Thrones.  However, I do think the target audience will enjoy it so I recommend it for classroom libraries.

Now, can I just take a second to tell all publishers that it’s ridiculous to blurb a book as the ” _______ (fill in the blank- Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Lord of the Rings) for girls”.  Can we stop this weird need to create books for boys and books for girls?  Because you know who reads Game of Thrones in my classes?  Girls!  Imagine that!  So stop marketing books long gender lines.  Totally unnecessary.

 

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

I love, love, love Rebecca Stead.  I reviewed her debut, First Light, in one of my first blog posts ever.  And I have very fond memories of sharing When You Reach Me as a read aloud in my sixth grade classes. I’ve been waiting for her newest novel for what seems like ages!

Liar & Spy does not disappoint. Rebecca Stead is the queen of setting.  Her New York City stories are utter perfection; I feel like I am walking the streets with her characters, listening to the traffic, and in this case, watching the parrots.  But her characters don’t suffer for this.  Georges (yes, with a silent ) is a middle schooler dealing with a load of issues.  His parents recently had to sell their beautiful home and move the family to a small apartment.  His father lost his job and is trying to build his own business now.  Mom is always at the hospital, where she works as a nurse.  Georges’ best friend is suddenly a “cool” kid and can’t give him the time of day.  So when Georges meets Safer, a pretty weird kid who lives in the new building, they form a strange friendship.  It’s strange because Safer is obsessed with spying on his neighbors.  Think Harriet the Spy, but slightly more modern.

Ahh, but things aren’t as they seem. At least not at first glance.  Stead is a master of plot twists and it continues to be true in Liar & Spy.  I won’t spoil it here, but it’s not a sci-fi twist like Stead’s last novel.  However, it’s just as masterfully crafted.  Upon finishing the book, and upon finishing it as a read aloud, I wanted to turn back to first page and reread it.  There were clues I missed along the way and I wanted to go back and catch them.  And my campers felt the same way.  One of them emailed me to say that she went out and purchased her own copy to read because she enjoyed it so much!

Highly recommended.  Great for middle school and high school readers, and even upper elementary!

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

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