(A version of this was originally written on 9/11/03, on my personal blog. It has been edited for this posting. I have reposted some version 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 one of my best friends, 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 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, as the TV in my room wasn’t hooked up yet. (We had moved in only days earlier). 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 to get in touch with me. I grabbed my cell phone to call her back, but by that time the lines were down.

As I kept hitting the redial button I watched my floormates pace up and down the halls. One of the girls 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 common room 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.  I wanted to be with my friends, and admit that the idea of driving home was frightening.  None of us knew what was happening or what would happen.

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 a 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 while 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 email network and reading the the public announcements, a forum usually reserved for messages about upcoming school dances and PTA fundraisers.  The tragedy began to hit home as some of my peers posted messages asking for the readers to look for names on lists- parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins. As new lists were posted in the media it became more and more apparent that some of those who were missing would not be coming home that night.  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 11th, ferries came from the city to the our 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. Parents, siblings, friends, colleagues all of them.

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. At that time, it was a terrifying thought.  Would NYC be hit again? Were we safe?

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 then-girlfriend and their best friend. A sophomore in high school and he was trying to hold up his friends while they learned that a parent 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 don’t have any memories of this day in history.  September 11th is history to them, something they read about each year and pass memorials for in their towns. It’s something their parents and other adults talk about.  The visual of a plane hitting the towers live on television isn’t part of their life.  That’s something I can’t imagine.  I knew this day was coming but it’s so foreign to me and I just can’t believe that there are people here, in my area of NJ, who don’t remember September 11th.  Today is September 11th “capital letter because it’s a month” not September 11th “a day that changed our lives forever so it has forever been ingrained in our minds”.

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.  September 11th will always be a day that stops me in my tracks but I am glad that it’s history for my students.  I hope they never experience anything like we all did on that day.

One of Those Days. #sol14

Today was one of those days.

You know. Those days. Like Alexander’s day.

A no-good, horrible, very bad day.

It was aggravating and frustrating. I spent too long on the phone and too little time doing things around the house. I didn’t get to read. There was a lot going on at school over the past 24 hours.

But now I will relax. The leftovers are packed away, the dogs are tired, and I’m ready to read a book.

If you need me, I’ll be hiding.

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Eliot Schrefer’s Endangered.  When I was able to get an advance copy of the next book in the Ape quartet at NCTE I was absolutely thrilled.  I may have begged my copy off of my good friend Jen, who would think I was insane if she wasn’t a book nut herself! Luckily, she was kind enough to give me the copy she picked up at the Scholastic book because they were all out by the time I got there.

When I got back from NCTE I was busy reading lots of Cybils nominees but I knew that Threatened would be one of the first books I read once my responsibilities to the Cybils were accomplished. Right before New Year’s Eve, after the shortlists were completed, I sat down and read Threatened in a single sitting.

Needless to say, I loved it. I can’t wait to share this with students and have discussions with those who have also read Endangered.  I think bonobos are still my favorite primates, but chimpanzees are fascinating.

Because I don’t want reinvent (rewrite?) the wheel, below is the flap copy for Threatened:

Into the jungle. Into the wild. Into harm’s way.

When he was a boy, Luc’s mother would warn him about the “mock men” living in the trees by their home — chimpanzees whose cries would fill the night.

Luc is older now, his mother gone. He lives in a house of mistreated orphans, barely getting by. Then a man calling himself Prof comes to town with a mysterious mission. When Luc tries to rob him, the man isn’t mad. Instead, he offers Luc a job.

Together, Luc and Prof head into the rough, dangerous jungle in order to study the elusive chimpanzees. There, Luc finally finds a new family — and must act when that family comes under attack.

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.

Luc is an AIDs orphan whose sole focus is survival.  He’s been mistreated by the people around and left to fend for himself.  Is it any wonder that he dreams of building a home far from the city he is forced to live in? And Prof is mysterious and sad while dedicated to the study of chimpanzees.  Both characters are fully realized

Threatened  will be released next month and I highly recommend it for middle school and high school libraries.  It will be a terrific book club choice and I hope to see it honored with an award sticker or two in the coming months! Get your preorders in now!

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 100,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Part I: #NCTE13

Every year after attending NCTE I struggle to summarize my experience. This year, inspired by my friend Cindy, I have decided to write two posts. Part I will focus on the events outside of the sessions I attended. Part II, coming later this week, will focus solely on the sessions I attended while I was there (and those I attended virtually, because there is no way to attend every session offered!)

NCTE is my home away from home. Even though it changes cities each year, the people make the event feel like home. This year’s conference was in Boston (which is now my favorite city) and it did not disappoint! I always leave physically exhausted but mentally rejuvenated, inspired, and renewed.

Chris and I arrived in Boston late Thursday night and checked into the Revere Hotel, which was gorgeous. I was presenting on Friday so I got everything ready and crashed. For the record, traveling by train is the way to go. So much better than the airport and airplanes, but just as exhausting! I tried not to spread myself too thin, but I still had a packed schedule for the weekend.


1. Don Graves breakfast Friday morning I was fortunate enough to be invited to a breakfast hosted by Heinemann. The Don Graves breakfast was inspiring, to say the least. My awesome friend Jen was my plus one and we spent the first few minutes in awe as we looked at the rest of the audience.  “There’s Penny Kittle! And Ralph Fletcher!” The names kept coming.  Plus, the audience was full of NerdyBookClub friends, so it was the best way to start my time at the conference.

The breakfast was inspiring, as many of my English teacher idols spoke about the influence the indomitable Don Graves had on their lives.  You can see Penny Kittle’s intro here and some of the video clips from the breakfast here. Thank you to Heinemann for including me in this inspiring and amazing breakfast.  What a way to kick off the weekend!  I left pondering some new ideas for writing workshop and with a lot of notes in my phone.

2. Ripped from the Headlines and Applied to the Classics I was very blessed to present at NCTE with my amazing editor from The Learning Network, Katherine Schulten.  We had a slight snafu when our 75 newspapers were not delivered for the session, but we made do.  Katherine had a back-up plan and it worked out beautifully.

When I arrived at the room, I was stunned.  I was expecting a few friends and maybe some others, but the room was packed.  As in, people sitting in the aisles and standing room only packed.  I was terrified.  Just as I was about to have a heart attack, the amazing Leeann Spillane introduced herself and handed me a present!  She created a piece of art especially for me and it’s stunning.  It also calmed me down and the session went wonderfully.

You can learn more about our presentation from this post on The Learning Network.   Leeann also wrote a post about the session here and Using Information Text wrote another.


3. Exhibit Hall The exhibit hall is a bit like the Colosseum. It’s overwhelming, loud, and sometimes I’m afraid for my life!  Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. ;)  But it’s also a great place to make professional connections.  This year I spent a great deal of time chatting with publicists about upcoming books and ways to use them in the classroom.  I also met lots of authors and chatted with them about my students.

Me and Chris Crutcher (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

Me and Chris Crutcher (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

4. Nerdy Party Maybe my favorite part of NCTE13.  It began with a dinner with my Nerdy friends and then we made our way over to the hotel lounge around 8pm.  By 9pm the NerdyBookClub had taken over the hotel lounge and there were readers, authors, publishers, illustrators, poets, editors, and so many others mingling and chatting.  Every time I turned around there was someone else to chat with!  Chris and I stayed until midnight and I still didn’t get to talk to everybody! I did get a chance to chat with YA author Gae Polisner, which made the whole night worthwhile.

Four hours of conversation centered on books and writing.  There is nothing nerdier or better.  Thank you to my NerdyBookClub friends for including me in your adventures and throwing an awesome party!  I’m already looking forward to #nerdy14!

Nerdy friends! (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

Nerdy friends! (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

5. General Session A few weeks ago I received a phone call from Sandy Hayes, president of NCTE.  She asked me if I would speak as part of her President’s speech at NCTE.  Of course I immediately said yes! Then I felt the terror take over.  I worked on my speech for a few weeks, but in true High Tech fashion, I finished it right before getting on the train.

I knew I would be speaking as one of a group of teachers that Sandy had invited to share their stories so I was very intimidated.

I think it went well.  I did not have a heart attack while speaking, though it was terrifying.  But more importantly, I was inspired by the other teachers Sandy invited to speak.  Each one of them made me laugh and a few brought tears to my eyes. Sandy’s idea of sharing the speech was brilliant and I wish more people had made it to the ballroom to see her in action.

And the best part of being part of the President’s speech?

Nancie Atwell spoke a few minutes after I did.

Nancie Atwell.

My English teacher hero.  I babbled and looked like an idiot, but we had a great conversation.  She even took a few minutes to speak with me about my writing.  Bucket list item? I think so!

6. Catching Fire Scholastic invited some of the NCTE attendees to a private screening of Catching Fire. Greatest idea ever?  I’d say so!  David Levithan introduced the film and I definitely squealed like a fangirl.  Then I spent the next two hours gasping and covering my eyes alongside a theater full of fellow English nerds. Absolutely amazing! (And if you haven’t seen Catching Fire yet, what are you doing reading blogs?!  Get yourself to a movie theater, pronto!)

7. ALAN Cocktail Party I love ALAN.  This was the first year I stayed for the conference after NCTE and it certainly won’t be the last. I’ll write more about ALAN later, but the cocktail party capped off my NCTE experience. The ALAN cocktail party is a low-key event where teachers and authors get to mingle, provided you aren’t too shy to go up and introduce yourself.  I chickened out when it came to introducing myself to Laurie Halse Anderson (next year!), but I did meet Andrea Cramer.  Love her! I also stuck with the wonderful Paul Hankins for a bit and he introduced me to Nancy Garden, who was an inspiration. Special thanks to Paul for taking me under his wing for a bit.  That guy knows everyone!!

Oh!  And I met Judy Blume! I totally babbled and I think I said something like, “You’re Judy Blume!”. Pretty sure she already knew that.  But Judy Blume!

And the ALAN party also provided me with the opportunity to finally meet Eliot Schrefer in person. I read Endangered last year and then our school book club also read it. Endangered is probably my favorite book of the last year and it was brilliant getting a chance to chat with Eliot. We’ve chatted over social media but meeting in person was fabulous.  We spent about 25 minutes chatting and Eliot also introduced me to David Levithan and Bill Koenisburg.  What great guys! (My new mission is finding a way to bring Schrefer to do a school visit at HTHS…)


Me, Eliot Schrefer, Jen Ansbach (thanks for the photo skills, Noah!)

The ALAN cocktail party was the best way to cap off my NCTE conference.  And it led directly into ALAN and the many panels that inspired me to be  a better reader and teacher.  But more about those sessions later….   Part II: NCTE Sessions and ALAN to come later this week!

Guest Post on Kirby Larson’s Blog

Be sure to check out my guest post on author Kirby Larson’s blog. I share some of the ways I encourage my high schoolers and my colleagues to be lifelong readers.

A #coverflip Experiment with High School Freshmen

Today in class the freshmen read Maureen Johnson’s awesome essay, “The Gender Coverup“, wherein she takes a look at gendered book covers and calls to task those who think there are  “boy” books and “girl” books.

“I don’t care,” say some other people. Probably most of the people. Because a lot of people don’t read much or see why any of this affects their lives. But I believe it does affect us all, very much so, because these are all subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) value judgments on what kind of narratives matter.

“But!” some of those people who are still paying attention cry. “Boys don’t like to/can’t read about girls!”

“&^%$@,” say I.

Of course they can, and stop making their choices for them or telling them what they do or don’t want to do. This may be a big part of the problem.

I see this issue every day as a teacher.  I saw it in 6th grade and I see it with my high schoolers.  I’ll booktalk a fabulous book and the cover will influence students to read it or not read it.  I have plenty of male students who, as avid booktalkers of Thirteen Reasons Why  would love Before I Fall, but avoid it because of the cover. They deem it “feminine” and say that they will be made fun of.  A problem in and of itself, obviously, but we need to stop placing gender labels on books, too.

The conversations that stemmed from the article were fabulous.  I eavesdropped as students argued over whether girls are more willing to read broadly while boys stick to certain topics.  I watched as they analyzed the covers of the books on their desks.  And I hid a smile as they vehemently argued over whether the covers of YA novels fit gender stereotypes.  Plus, it led to a great analysis of the many editions of our current class novel, Things Fall Apart.  The students noted similarities between how Achebe’s characters were presented on some covers and how those in the Western world view(ed) Nigeria (and Africa as a whole).   Could this English teacher be any happier?

After reading the article and viewing the slideshow, I challenged my students to try #coverflip.  In groups, they decided on a book that they felt had a cover that appealed more to one gender than necessary.  Then, they searched for Creative Commons images that they could use to create a new cover.  In photoshop, they designed their new book cover with either a more neutral cover or one that appealed to gender stereotypes.  Take a look at what they came up with!




a wrinkle in time










Twilight Flipped Cover











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fahrenheit 451




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PJ Book Cover




the hunger games







The Fault in Our Stars




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So impressed with what these students came up with in only 40 minutes!  And I have to admit, some of these #coverflip books really make me think.  What about you?

As a lover of books, I dream of a day when there are no “boy” or “girl” assumptions when it comes to audience.  After discussing it with my students, I think they will be the ones to make it happen.  For the most part, they see no reason why the narrator or characters should influence  the gender of a perceived audience.  You hate romance and love action?  Great!  Doesn’t matter if you are male or female.  You love character-driven stories with romance and can’t deal with gore?  Awesome!  Who cares if you are a girl or a guy?  An appealing cover should show some aspect of the story and the audience will find it, as my students said.  Marketers can’t always predict who will buy a book (data isn’t perfect, they pointed out!) so why not appeal to the broadest audience possible?

I love my students. :)



*students- if you don’t see your cover here, it’s because I didn’t get it!  Tweet or email it to me and I”ll update this post!




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