Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is something stunning about Brian Selznick's departure from the traditional picture book medium. Normally, when you think picture book you think 32 pages, where the illustrations support the understanding of the text. In Selznick's piece, the images serve to move the story forward, saying things that the text doesn't say. I'll agree (and I'll find this citation) that the pictures have a graphic novel type quality to them, even though they're presented as full page panels. I'm excited to see how the movie turns out this November.

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Friday, September 30, 2011

Review: A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Monster Calls is another beautifully written story by Patrick Ness. I was in awe of him after the Chaos Walking Trilogy and A Monster Calls didn't disappoint. This is one I couldn't read during class because it made me cry. Book talk to come.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review: Sold

Sold by Patricia McCormick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a hard novel to read, and it took me more than one try to get through. As a reader, I appreciated McCormick's acknowledgements at the end, providing statistics and information about other young women who have been sold into sexual slavery in that area of the world.

Book talk coming soon.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie
Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's interesting how we read books a second, third or even fourth time and find something new in them. Or read them a different way. The last time I read Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie, I read it looking for the humor. The people in a class I took on teaching English told me that David Lubar was funny. This time, when I read it, I could definitely see how becoming a Nerdfighter has affected my thinking. As I read, I had "imagine me complexly" stuck in my head. Interesting. DFTBA

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Review: Almost Perfect

Almost Perfect
Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn't sure what to expect with this one. It's the second book about a pre-op transgendered teenager that I've read. Overall, I liked it. Felt for the characters. And then, I found myself surprised that one of my students asked about it--she doesn't like the book she's reading, had read the back of mine and decided she wants to read it. So it's going back in my bag for Monday. I'm interested in having conversation with her about it.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Um, wow. From the beginning I was drawn in by both the story and the hauntingly beautiful photographs. Right now I lack the words to describe this story, which I devoured in one sitting.

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Review: Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book

Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book
Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was great! I'm not going to say too much so I don't give it away. Book talk coming soon.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review: Little Brother

Little Brother
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall, I liked the story. There is a scary sense of realism when it comes to technology and how people can be tracked using the GPS function in their cell phones. And how Google uses your current location and an aggragate that includes your previous searches and what you clicked on to determine what results are best suited to show up in whatever search you're conducting at the moment. I thought, like one of my friends, that the explanations of all of the technology slowed the story down a bit. I could see how it was necessary in terms of not wanting to alienate audience, though.

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Review: Beauty Queens

Beauty Queens
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: The Ask and the Answer

The Ask and the Answer
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For the book talk, see

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: Monsters of Men

Monsters of Men
Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I ordered this one online. When I bought the first, the bookstore didn't have the second, but did have the UK version of the third. Now I'm a little disappointed that I didn't pick up the third book before. Needless to say, the Chaos Walking trilogy is probably my favorite young adult trilogy right now. I'm so excited for the release of  A Monster Calls in September. There's something so vivid about Patrick Ness's writing that makes me want to read even more. 


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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What measure can we use to compare two people's suffering? Is one worse than the other? Does the fact that one person has a harder time of it mean that someone else's suffering is invalid?

I read a number of the reviews here on Goodreads before I finally decided to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and it seems like people are split fairly well down the middle on whether or not they like this novel.

The novel was weird to me, if only because it's not the kind of novel that I usually read. When my mother asked me whether or not I liked it, I told her it's fantastic.

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Review: Addie on the Inside

Addie on the Inside
Addie on the Inside by James Howe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every once in a while, a student will show me that they're world aware. It's always so moving to me when kids show that they're familiar with something other than the digital world. Addie reminded me of those students. There was a conversation she had with another girl about why she cared if a celebrity was being beaten by her boyfriend--it didn't effect her directly. The response she gave was the response I should have given to the kid who asked me why he should care about the genocide that happened during the Holocaust, or the genocide going on in Darfur.
James Howe uses beautiful language to depict a girl who is trying to find the balance between being who she is and being who she thinks people want her to be. This novel in verse is definitely worth a read.

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Review: If You Come Softly

If You Come Softly
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this novel, the story about how people from different ethnicities come together and the view of the outside world, and I think about my brothers. And my boy cousins. And all the students I have who have told me that they want to be Black. It's not something I've ever understood. And maybe, after reading If You Come Softly I hope maybe you'll understand where I'm coming from. 

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Review: Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading
Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Both Tommy Greenwald and Rick Riordan started writing books because their children didn't like to read. I think it's interesting how, while the two gentlemen had similar motivation, they outcomes were very different. I think Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading will be a fought-over addition to my classroom library.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Review: The Monstrumologist

The Monstrumologist
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Something about this, and I don't know if it was the fact that it was told using a journal, or that the crazy monster-hunting guy was called in, reminded me of Bram Stoker's Dracula. I'm going to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the gore, the monster hunting, and the trying to figure out why Warthrope demands that Will Henry (who is always called by both his given name and his surname) stay away from John Kearns.
Book talk to come.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Talk: Tears of a Tiger

Tears of a Tiger was one of the first young adult books I read when I started my teaching career. I was amazed at how powerful the story was and at the author's choice in ending. That year, I taught a section of English 9 in addition to my reading classes. I had a student, one I will never forget for other reasons, read Tears of a Tiger first. He came back to me, not too long after I'd given it to him, and said he cried at the end. I was surprised that 1) this big, strong guy cried at the end of this novel (I have since reflected on such perceptions and 2) that he felt comfortable enough with me to admit that he had an emotional response to this book. He went on to read the rest of the trilogy, then Feed by M.T. Anderson and 1984 by George Orwell. Watch the video to find out a little about Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper.



Thursday, July 21, 2011

QR Codes in Books


qrcodeI've heard tell that necessity is the mother of invention. What I like about summer is that it gives me time to think about what worked, what didn't work, and what drove me absolutely crazy in my classroom the previous year.

What you have to know about my classroom is that it's structured by Read 180. Three stations, 20 minutes a station. I tend to run into a problem when a student finishes his book and wants something else to read. While I'm teaching the small group, he'll come, interrupt the flow, and ask what he should read next.  I understand that most of the students I get are reluctant readers, I want them to learn to be independent reluctant readers. If twenty minutes is all I have with a group, I want to be able to use all 20 of those minutes and not take a quarter of them book talking to another student (not that I mind book talking--the timing is just inconvenient).

That prompted me to start making YouTube videos of my book talks. With any luck, I can get my channel unblocked at school and have a computer station set up so to the viewing of these videos can be done independently. If that doesn't work, I had another idea, which became my project for the summer.

Last school year I saw many conversations on Twitter about QR codes and using QR codes for comments. It wasn't until this summer and reading this blog post that I really understood what QR codes were and figured out how I could use them. To address my problem of being interrupted while teaching by a student who wanted a new book -- a problem I don't mind having because it means they're reading -- I decided to create QR codes that link to various YouTube videos and commentaries about books. These barcodes will be taped to the inside of the books at the beginning or end, and students can use my phone to access the content.

The fact that my phone is the device necessary for this project to work has beenthe only snag. Because YouTube is blocked, and because I want my students to be able to read whatever commentary from wherever on the web, and because I won't connect my iPhone to the wireless in my classroom, it seems like the best choice. Students have used my devices before without too much incident -- iPod nano to watch videos from Skeleton Creek and Trackers or listening to audiobooks -- so I'm not too worried. There will be ground rules. But I think having the video option will help those students who have a hard time reading the back cover of a book and deciding whether or not they want to read it.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review: Bone: Quest For The Spark, Book One

Bone: Quest For The Spark, Book One
Bone: Quest For The Spark, Book One by Thomas E. Sniegoski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I picked up Quest for the Spark at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale in May, I fully expected it to be a spin-off graphic novel series. I was surprised when it wasn't. So a mostly-new cast of characters is on a quest for the light that will drive the darkness away.

The book talk will be uploaded by tomorrow.

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Review: Resistance, Book 1

Resistance, Book 1
Resistance, Book 1 by Carla Jablonski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Resistance, Book 1 is historical fiction set during World War II in France. This story is about a few French kids who want to join the underground resistance against the German occupation of France. Two children are harboring their Jewish friend, and their goal is to help him escape to Paris. It's an interesting look at what WWII was from somewhere outside the concentration camps.

If you liked Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Resistance might be a good graphic novel supplement.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Sent

Sent (The Missing, #2)Sent by Margaret Peterson Haddix

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This one came out of one of the boxes of books I  picked up at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale in May. It's the second book in a series of mystery stories by Margaret Peterson Haddix called "The Missing." The first book is called Found. If you haven't read Found, start there. If you have and are ready for Sent, there's a book talk below that makes sure you're up to speed.

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After Looking for Alaska

I considered creating a QR code for the video on YouTube, but decided that I wanted you, my reader (who is probably one of my students who has just finished Looking for Alaska by  John Green) to get a little commentary before you watch listen to the song I've attached.

This song was written by one of the FiveAwesomeGirls on YouTube, and covered by Hank Green (who is the author's brother). As you listen, I want you to see how many references to the novel you can find in the song.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review: Found

Found (The Missing, #1)Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I read Among the Brave a few years ago (never made it all the way through that series) and it was good. I remember finding the storyline engaging. First semester last year, one of my students read Found and said that I should as well. It took me a little while to get to it, but I'm glad I did.

There's a book talk below the fold.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Curiosity got the best of me when I picked up this one. I was out at Half-Price Books in Indianapolis, and the dust jacket, which is clear plastic, caught my eye. I picked it up, read a little and was intrigued. When I checked on Goodreads, I saw that a number of my friends already read it and loved it. When I finished this novel I was upset because I could not immediately start the next book. You think the cliffhangers at the end of the Hunger Games books were intense? They have nothing on the cliffhanger from the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy.

Here's the book talk.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

I read Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes in the car on the drive from Nashville to Indianapolis with my grandparents and mother.  I've heard a number of good things about Chris Crutcher, through I had only read Deadline (which is also fantastic). Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes was added to my to-read list at least three years ago when I took an English/Language Arts methods course as an elective for my master's. We did literature circles. The group I was in read Fahrenheit 451, and created a podcast (which I should really find and put on the internet because it was super cool). Other groups read Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar, another title that I don't remember, and Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. So I finally picked it up. Here's the book talk, see if it would work for you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: Matched

Matched (Matched, #1)Matched by Ally Condie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Matched is another novel that reminds me of The Giver by Lois Lowry. In the Society, where Cassia lives, everything is chosen for her. Her job will be selected for her, her mate or Match, will be selected for her. When something unusual happens with her match Cassia begins to wonder about the system that she's been living in -- if it's as perfect as she always believed it to be. Seeds of curiosity are planted, first by the issue with her match, then with a gift from her dying grandfather, that make this a story about finding out what choice really is, and deciding if following the rules is what keeps everyone safe, or if breaking them leads to a better life.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Books I Read in June

Here we have to books I read in June (almost half a month late). Book talks are currently in the works for many of these titles. My favorites from June: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, Beauty Queens, Rot & Ruin and Ship Breaker.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
Web 2.0 for Educators by Gwen Soloman
The Twilight Saga (yes, I read all four) by Stephanie Meyer
The Adventures of Captain Underpants (#1)
Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets (#2)
Captain Underpants and the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (#3)
Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants (#4) by Dav Pilkey
Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel
Big Nate Strikes Again by Lincoln Pierce
Big Nate: A Cartoon Collection: From the Top by Lincoln Pierce
Big Nate: In a Class by Himself
Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach
The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Wit in the Wild West by Steve Sheinkin
Tyrell by Coe Booth
Bossypants by Tina Fey (audiobook)
Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
Percy Jackson & the Olympians (series) by Rick Riordan
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Mayberry
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Teaching the iGeneration: Five Easy Ways to Introduce Essential Skills with Web 2.0 Tools by William M. Ferriter
Hold me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
Candor by Pam Bachorz
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: Big Nate Strikes Again

Big Nate Strikes AgainBig Nate Strikes Again by Lincoln Peirce

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Teacher & Student Questioning

One of the themes I've noticed running through the Model Schools Conference is the necessity of raising rigor and relevance with our students. A common issue teachers have, says Lin Kuzmich, is that we ask questions, then call on one of the three kids who always raises his hand, or, in the even that we don't get an answer, provide it and move on.

Two ways to avoid this. I connected teacher questioning to the "So what?" question and the levels of questioning that we talked about at the href="">APSI-NM workshops from last summer. There are a number of questions listed for teacher questioning that go beyond the "Okay, that's the right answer. Next question" mentality.

To further increase rigor, have students create the questions. I like this for inner/outer circle activities, personally. The Q-Matrix gives those kids who are struggling a place to start. Think about it this way: If students create the questions, it requires them to interact with the text in more than a "find the answer" kind of way.

I'll find a link to a clean copy of these and post it on a resource page. The PowerPoint this came from can be found on Lin Kuzmich's website.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Search Cube

Search cube was billed to us as a search engine for educators. It is a filter built by educators for educators. The cube is populated by bring in video links, images and lesson plans about whatever topic is typed into the search box. Take a look a the short video below to see how search cube works.


3 Interactive Timelines

I'm attending the Model Schools Conference in Nashville, and before I forget, I wanted to share some of the resources that I've gathered over the past two days. Some of these resources come from other educators, and some come from presenters. I'm going to include some of these in resources on the pages at the (book) supplier, so you're more than welcome to take a look at them there, as well as other resources that I've compiled.

I think that poster board timelines are a little outdated, especially when students are used to doing searches for images and video on the internet.  When a presenter suggested we give Dipity a try, I thought about other interactive timeline interfaces I've heard about, and went into my Evernote files to see what else I had. I also found a timeline called TimeToast and one from ReadWriteThink.

Dipity is an easy to use,
free timeline website. Users add content, the titles and related images of which appear on the timeline. Clicking on a title or image provides more information about the point on the timeline. Users have to have a login, which requires an email address (or Facebook account), to create timeline. Timelines are populated by manually entering events, importing from a Twitter search, Flickr, Google News search, or YouTube search, among others.

With a free account, users are only allowed to create three timelines before they are asked to upgrade to the premium version for $4.95/mo.

Screen shot 2011 06 27 at 6 29 36 PM

Timetoast is also an easy to use timeline creating website. Again, email addresses are required to create a login (users can also sign in with their Facebook accounts). TimeToast's interface is easier to use than Dipity's, however users do not have the ability to import from outside sources; all events have to be entered manually. People can comment on timelines, however timelines can't be exported, and there are ads.

Screen shot 2011 06 27 at 7 40 00 PM

ReadWriteThink is, more often than not, my go-to for materials. The interactive timeline here starts on a screen like this -- and students are able to choose how they want to label their events.

Screen shot 2011 06 27 at 7 42 26 PM

All entries are entered manually, and there are no graphic options. The view is a little confusing -- once you click on "Finished" you are given the option to print or start over; the timeline is appears as you enter data into the form.

Screen shot 2011 06 27 at 7 57 50 PM

It doesn't require a username or password, but I think it's the least aesthetically pleasing of the three.

I think about the things I've been hearing about how we have to engage learners with images and video in addition to the text, and I think this is where the ReadWriteThink interactive timeline falls short. What really makes it interactive? As far as interactive timelines go, I think I like Dipity best, even though users are limited by the number of timelines they can create.

Word Map for Vocabulary

I'm attending the Model Schools Conference in Nashville, and before I forget, I wanted to share some of the resources that I've gathered over the past two days. Some of these resources come from other educators, and some come from presenters. I'm going to include some of these in resources on the pages at the (book) supplier, so you're more than welcome to take a look at them there, as well as other resources that I've compiled.

The first presenter I saw said that the first step to improving literacy at any school is improving vocabulary. Here's a graphic organizer that one of the ladies at my table says works well for her. She did say, though, that students have to do the steps in order otherwise it doesn't work.

  1. Word
  2. Synonyms
  3. Antonyms
  4. Define in kid friendly words (part of speech)
  5. Sentence in context (like from the text being studied)
  6. Image
  7. Original, student-composed, sentence.

Word Map

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Free Audiobooks

Screen shot 2011 06 19 at 8 34 09 PM

I got this in my Twitter feed today, and thought some of you might be interested. is offering two free audiobooks each week for the rest of the summer. One is YA, the other is out of the canon. Check it out at There's a list posted of audiobooks and their availability.

As an aside, I like to have audiobooks of books that I already own. I'm excited that Shiver is first, because it will open up that particular text to readers in my classroom who may not have been able to access it before. I'm also excited about Little Brother. I picked that one up at Half-Price last time I visited my parents.

Happy Reading, and DFTBA!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review: Ghostopolis

GhostopolisGhostopolis by Doug TenNapel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Garth is accidentally zapped into the ghost world by a ghost hunter chasing a horse. Garth, who is still alive, has amazing powers. Because of these powers, he is hunted by Vaugner, the ruler of Ghostopolis. The guy who accidentally sent Garth to Ghostopolis comes to Garth's rescue.

The story reminds me a little of The Wizard of Oz (and Garth's last name is Hale), where the protagonist goes to another world and has to save it to get home. I'm not complaining. I love the Wizard of Oz, and this story is fantastic both in story and visually.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review: Thirteen Days to Midnight

Thirteen Days to MidnightThirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm going to do a a book talk on this one (which I'll post a link to when I'm done with it), so I'm only going to mention here what I took issue with.

Jacob and Milo are trying to work out what's going on with Ophelia--why she's so desperate to save people and what happens to her when she gets the power they've been sharing (which was not the way I expected it to turn out, mind you). I thought that this aspect of the story wrapped itself up too neatly, too easily. There wasn't an extraordinary amount of struggle for it, and - I don't know - I didn't feel the resolution.

The story does, however, make me want to see the movie The Prestige again.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: Go the Fuck to Sleep

Go the Fuck to SleepGo the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

You know, I was with it and thought it was funny up until the point where the little black baby was toddling past the door and the writing suggests that the furniture in the house is poor, and it's the only one in which the parent is falling asleep. I get that there's anger in other places in the book, but from the narration, it isn't clear that the parent acted on the anger, but that image made me think, "we really don't need any help pushing the stereotype that Black people have shoddy furniture and neglect their children." It could be that I'm being too sensitive about this, but when I deal with students who don't take issue with racial epithets because they don't understand the implications of their speech and behavior, it's hard for me to let things like this pass.

And really, I was with it up until that point.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: Tyrell

TyrellTyrell by Coe Booth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I put Tyrell by Coe Booth in the same category as I put Street Pharm and Snitch by Allison van Diepen, or Homeboyz by Alan Lawrence Sitomer. These are books that many of my students have absolutely loved.

The novel tells the story of Tyrell, a teenager whose father is in jail, mother doesn't have a job, and a little brother that he cares deeply about. What I liked most about Tyrell is that he is a multifaceted character. It's not a story about a poor, homeless Black kid, it's about a kid who's trying to be a man and stay out of his own way (that means not getting into the things his father was into - those things landed him in jail).

The story is told through first person, and Tyrell is the narrator. The use of dialect throughout the narration definitely adds to the realism of the character.

I also liked how the story didn't really end. Not as an ambiguous an ending as say, The Giver, but everything isn't tied up in a nice neat bow for us. Life isn't like that, and neither was the end of this novel.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Review: The Lost Hero

The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, #1)The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this book when it came out, and it was so popular, that it went through the hands of a number of students familiar with the Percy Jackson series before I got my hands back on it.

I did find it interesting that Riordan had this series planned by the end of The Last Olympian (check the acknowledgments page).

We have three new heroes: Jason (again, named after another famous Greek hero), PIper and Leo, two of whom are children of gods who didn't take a starring role in the last series. An interesting choice.

I liked the novel - The action was enough to keep the pages turning - but there was something missing in this novel. I think I liked the Percy Jackson series because of the first person narrator and because the focus was solely on one character. The third person narrator in The Lost Hero, I think, distanced readers from the characters in a way.

Between this and the Kane Chronicles, I wonder if he's trying to do too much at the same time. Don't get me wrong though. The ending? Clever. I'm interested to see where this goes in The Son of Neptune, which is due out sometime in the fall of 2011.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: Rot & Ruin

Rot & Ruin (Benny Imura, #1)Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one I picked up because I heard about it on the podcast Text Messages. Dr. Buehler hasn't steered me wrong yet.

No one knows what caused First Night--the night when the dead awoke and started killing off the living. And what Benny remembers about First Night is his mother in a dress with red sleeves, and that his brother took him and ran away. Now Benny is 15 and has to find himself a job or he risks losing half of his food rations. He wants something simple, something he doesn't have too work hard at, and something that isn't joining the family business and becoming a zombie hunter like his brother.

I didn't think I'd enjoy a zombie novel near as much as I did. Rot & Ruin is well written with complex characters and enough action to keep the pages turning.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: Candor

CandorCandor by Pam Bachorz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Candor is the perfect place - a Utopia - a place where no one wants for anything. The kids show up on time, do their homework, and never talk back to their parents. The problem with utopias is there's usually something going on behind the scenes. A puppet-master pulling the strings and keeping secrets from the puppets.

Oscar Banks is the perfect son for the perfect place. A model Candor citizen. Except that he's aware of how his father keeps everything in Candor perfect. When Oscar meets Nia, a newcomer to Candor, he doesn't want her to be corrupted by the subliminal messages that keep everything in Candor running smoothly.

It is his attempt to save her that ends up threatening his own existence.

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Hold Me Closer, NecromancerHold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up Hold Me Closer, Necromancer because I've seen it on a lot of my Centurion friends' lists lately, then came across it in my school's library yesterday. The story is brilliant. The main character, Sam, has had secrets kept from him his entire life. When Douglass (great name for a bad guy, eh?) finds him, Sam goes on a quest to find out who he is, which in turn puts his life in danger.

This novel is told in from two perspectives: When Sam is involved, the story is told first person from his point of view. In order for readers to find out what is going on when Sam's not in the scene (or not in a position to narrate), the narrative shifts into third person. I thought the shift in perspective helped tell a clearer story, and allowed me to connect specifically with Sam's character.

There's enough action, humor, and talking heads for readers to enjoy.

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Not Visible Enough Part II: YA Saves

When I wrote my last blog post, I was livid. In the 30-45 minutes I spent writing, Maureen Johnson had mobilized Twitter, asking her followers (and their followers) to express what young adult literature had done for them. I set up an archive for the tweets, which you can find here. When I got up at 4 this morning, there were almost 10,000 tweets (thought the most recent tweets seem to carry the hashtag only because it's trending). According to MJ, it took 20 minutes for #YASaves to become the third highest trend in the United States.

I teach 8th grade reading. Every day, young people enter my classroom and as they do, I am asking them to trust me. I ask them to trust that I won't have them do anything without a reason, that anything I ask them to do I either plan on doing myself or have done myself. I ask them to trust me enough to tell me the truth when I ask them what they like in order to make appropriate book recommendations, and then I ask them to trust that coming to me and saying, "This isn't working for me, can we find something else," is an appropriate response to a novel.


I'll admit that I've taught young people who were not trustworthy. At the same time I have to admit that I know adults that are not trustworthy. By not trusting young people with their book selections it's almost like saying that their thoughts, ideas, opinions and life experiences are invalid. By saying that young people should not read "dark" fiction is like saying "your experience is abnormal and no one should have to read about it."

I read through the archive and come back to this: YA authors, you are rock stars. Young people, you, too, are rock stars. It is an honor and a privilege to get to work with such amazing young people and connect with them through books written by amazing authors.

There is more that I want to say about this, but I think I'll give it a rest for now.

Thank you for being awesome.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Not Visible Enough

Before you continue, you should check out this article from The Wall Street Journal.

I was taught that books can serve as a mirror or as a window for a reader. I've learned since that the world is decidely more complicated that just mirrors and windows, but the basic idea still holds true.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but at it's heart, this is an article calling for mass censorship of the young adult genre of books. As a reading teacher for adolescents and as a (soon to be) university faculty member teaching teachers about literature for adolescents, I respect the right of Amy Freeman to dictate what she wants her child to read. However, to suggest that all adolescents shouldn't read these "dark" books, is going too far.

I remember in one of my first graduate courses talking about children and brain development. The discussion centered around small children and their reading habits. While I'll admit that I don't know much about early literacy because it's not my focus, one part of that conversation stayed with me. Children like to hear the same stories over and over again because they're working though something in their minds. I've seen a similar phenomenon with the six-year-old son of one of my friends, who repeatedly watched Fox & the Hound, then repeatedly watched Balto until he worked through whatever issue he was dealing with.

I've had students, eighth graders, do the same thing. An outsider might argue that they're trying to get out of reading, but I know my students well enough to know that they're processing through. Specific example? I purchased the book Truancy for a student at his request. Two days later he came back to me and said that he'd read it twice. Maybe he was dealing with issues of authority as presented in the institution of schooling, maybe he was dealing with something else. The point is this: the kid was reading, the kid chose what he wanted to read, and the kid needed to reread in order to puzzle through whatever he was dealing with at the time.

So what you're saying, then, Wall Street Journal, is that kids should struggle through their issues on their own? Let me make sure I'm understanding you correctly. Think back for me. Remember what it was like to be a teenager. How many adults did you trust with your deepest, darkest issues? But what if the right book was put into your hands at the just the right time? And what if reading that book allowed you to feel like you were a little less alone in the world. That you weren't the only one going through whatever it is you were going through. I did see you used concession/refutation to argue this point, however, there's a voice missing from your argument. An incredibly important voice, I might add.

We tend to look at our past through rose colored glasses, thinking "When I was young, things were different."

And it's true. When we were young, things were different. When I was young, I went through the whole of high school and can't remember reading anything with an African-American depicted as anything but a slave. And until I took a class specifically on African-American literature as an undergraduate English Literature major, I didn't read anything about anyone who looked like me. I read nothing about characters whose lives looked like mine outside of the race issue. I feel like I'm making up for that now.

For me, authors are rock stars. I posted on my Tumblr blog about how excited I got when Libba Bray replied to one of my tweets. I've posted in the past about conversations I've had with other authors - Laurie Halse Anderson, Ellen Hopkins, John Green, Alan Sitomer, Lauren Myracle - and how I've passed messages back and forth between these authors and my students. These students who are grateful  for the words the words that these amazing authors write. Words that speak to kids who profess to have never, in their adolescent lives, finished an entire book. Words that tell these kids that they're not alone. That the world is bigger than the small town we live in. That the intolerance they spout as truth may not actually be truth. And I, and my students, appreciate their honesty, even when it makes us angry.

A colleague of mine in the doctoral program, who used to teach high school English, tells a story about the students with whom she worked. She says as a collective they were turned off from reading because none of the character in the stories they read were of Mexican descent, lived in a poor community, or sounded the same way they did. They resented being taught by the institution that the middle-class, Midwestern, Anglo dialect was the only correct way of fitting into society. Then they read a text with a protagonist who looked like them and spoke like them and they found that reading isn't all bad.

I grew up in Indianapolis, but I live in a small town now. There are many things that many of the students with whom I work don't know about. Columbine. Surprisingly, 9/11 (I showed a video and they asked me if what they were seeing was real). Matthew Shepard. Remember him? While the reality of gang violence is something everyone knows about and deals with here, the reality of the repercussions of homophobic and even anti-Jewish slurs is not. Do we not, as educators and as authors, have a duty to broaden the minds of our students? Or is the most important goal we have to accomplish tied to a white-washed assessment?

I stand with Libba Bray, who said, "Books are, at their heart, dangerous. Because they challenge us: our prejudices, our blind spots. They open us to new ideas, new ways of seeing. They make us hurt in all the right ways. They can push down the barricades of 'them' & widen the circle of 'us'. And when one feels alone--say, because of a terrible burden of a secret, something that creates pain and isolation, books can heal, connect. That's what good books do. That's what hard books do. And we need them in the world." You can read all of her comments here.

I stand with Lauren Myracle. With Laurie Halse Anderson. With Sherman Alexie. With John Green. With Jay Asher. With Neil Gaiman. With Ellen Hopkins. With Maureen Johnson. With Meg Cabot. With all the authors who tell it, and tell it honestly. Because life can be dark. And life can be messy. And if you don't want your own kid to read about the dark mess that life can be, that's your prerogative. I respect that as an educator.

But come to my classroom. Hear the beautiful arguments that the reading of this dark literature ignites. Tell me that the end of Jacqueline Woodson's If You Come Softly isn't a reality for some kid somewhere, that it couldn't be a reality for my own brothers if they're in the wrong part of town, and tell me where else my students would learn about this reality. Tell me that these kids aren't learning, that they aren't taking something away from the novels they read as more than a guide for destructive behaviors.

Come see the community we create, then tell me we're wrong.

My Reading Slump

Since the end of my semester teaching 8th grade, I've been in a reading slump. I don't know what caused it, but I've been having a hard time finding a book that I have really gotten into. And that makes me sad.

I went on an excursion today with my school's Rockin' Librarian and came home with two books: Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt and  Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride. Rockin' Librarian read Okay for Now, and if I recall correctly, she liked it. I've seen that title, along with Hold Me Closer, Necromancer on many Centurion's reading lists, so I decided it might be time to give them a go, even though I have a box full of books just waiting to be read.

My choice for first: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer because of what Sherman Alexie said on the cover: "This is a SCARY funny book OR a FUNNY scary book. In either case, it is a GREAT book. I LOVE iT" (capitalization in original). It's the funny that's a draw for me. I think it's time for a funny book and since I have to wait until August for Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer it is. I'll let you know what I think.

Happy reading & DFTBA

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Books I Read in May

I've been in a reading slump the last few weeks, but here are the books I read in May. Links go to blog posts about those books.

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Bone: Tall Tales by Thomas E. Sniegoski
The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
Boot Camp by Todd Strasser
The Raven (Skeleton Creek #4) by Patrick Carman
Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick
Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser
Shine by  Lauren Myracle
Rebel Angels (Gemma Doyle #2) by Libba Bray
Voices after Midnight by Richard Peck

In need of book recommendations

The video explains why I’m asking for this. Thanks in advance. We are decreasing education suck by educating teachers about the powers of young adult literature.
Some of the categories I need books for:
-A book you love that has been challenged or censored
-graphic novel
-coming of age
-strong female voice
-strong male voice
-vivid setting
-a book you could see reading in a science, history, health, technology, etc. class
-any other favorites that you think your English/Language Arts teachers should know about or wish they had known about.
Leave comments here, or in any of the following places: (my facebook page)
In Your Pants:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Talk: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Book talk of The DIsreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart.
@ Amazon:

National Book Award:
Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature:
Me: or

Thursday, May 19, 2011


To my 13 subscribers (yes, I checked), I'm changing my URL. This is an effort to streamline my online identity as The Supplier, and provide continuity across platforms. Hopefully, the next post you see from me will come from My fingers are crossed, and see you on the other side.

BTW, if it doesn't work, I'll be right back here--same bat time, same bat channel.

Monday, May 16, 2011

YA Lit (if I had an inequality sign I'd use it here) PSA

In my twitter stream this morning, I found this tweet from @readingrants

I followed the link to @bkshelvesofdoom's blog, then followed the link to the New York Times article they're referencing here. The statement that got me from the article (which you should go read) was:

The need to tell a good story gets in the way of the message.

You're kidding me, right? Since when does message come before story? Mind you, I'm all for bibliotherapy. I practice bibliotherapy on myself all the time. I think young adult literature can be great starting place for conversation. But it's always about the story.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

The Strange Case of Origami YodaThe Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is cute. As I was reading this, I could already picture the student I want to give it to next year. In the novel, Dwight is a social outcast. Then he creates the Origami Yoda. Tommy, who compiles the case files on Dwight and the Origami Yoda, is trying to figure out whether or not to trust the Origami Yoda's advice.
In the midst of all the books with heavy topics that I like to read, Origami Yoda was a nice break. The second book in this series by Tom Angleberger, which will have something to do with Darth Paper, will be released in August. Look for it.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Review: Zen And The Art Of Faking It

Zen And The Art Of Faking ItZen And The Art Of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The only other Sonnenblick book I've read is After Ever After, which I call the funniest sad book I've ever read. I picked up Zen and the Art of Faking it because of After Ever After, and because I was the kind of kid who wanted to move away and reinvent myself, which is essentially what the protagonist, San Lee, does. Concealing the fact that he's adopted and that his father is in jail, San decides to present himself as a Zen Buddhist, drawing on his the beliefs and mores of his culture.

How hard is it, though, to pretend you're someone that you're not?

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: Give a Boy a Gun

Give a Boy a GunGive a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can't remember where I was when I learned of the shooting at Columbine. I'm fairly certain I was somewhere in North Central, but I have no recollection of any more than that.

Given that bullying is a hot topic in the news right now, Todd Strasser's Give a Boy a Gun has even more relevance. I, too, think about the kids I see in the hallways of the school where I work who are bullied and who get ignored when they protest because their tormenters are the golden boys of the school, and what they're doing isn't recognized as bullying.

The novel is framed as a news report, compiled by the stepsister of one of the boys involved in trapping everyone in the gym. The compilation is arranged chronologically, allowing readers to see the evolution of the protagonists' disillusionment with people and the school administrators and the evolution of their anger with the fact that nothing will change unless they change it.

At the bottom of many pages, Strasser included quotes from Rolling Stone, The New York Times and from interviews with people from Columbine. This gives the novel a heightened sense of realism--connecting it with an event that has occurred in the nation's history that people still talk about.

Give a Boy a Gun is going to be added to both my bullying list for novel/non-fiction study next year.

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Review: Voices after Midnight

Voices after MidnightVoices after Midnight by Richard Peck

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up Voices After Midnight after looking for it for a long time. I remembered that the story had something to do with time travel, and an old-fashioned elevator, but nothing else. Thank goodness for Goodreads. I submitted a query, and found out that someone else had made a similar query and received a response.

This was a story I remember loving in my childhood. As a more mature reader, I found that it lacked details in many places. I wanted to know the characters better. While the story was quite fantastic (in the supernatural sense), I was a little disappointed that it didn't live up to my third grade memories. (Honestly, I'm glad it didn't. It would mean I either had highly developed sensibilities as an eight year old, or, more likely, that I did not become more discriminating as a reader.)

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Review: Shine

ShineShine by Lauren Myracle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've enjoyed other Lauren Myracle novels--the Internet Girls series, Kissing Kate--so I was optimistic going into this one. Myracle didn't disappoint.

Shine is a coming of age story. Cat has kept to herself since an unfortunate incident (to put it midly) from middle school. When her former best friend, Patrick, gets beaten, tied to a gas pump and left to die with the gas nozzle in his mouth, Cat decides that it's time to make up for the time she did not speak up for Patrick.

In her quest to find out who hurt her friend, she finds out that in her self-imposed absence, people around her have grown up, changed, and may not be who she thought they were.

This one may be difficult for struggling readers. The story is interwoven with flashback as Cat reflects on the events that brought her to the place she's currently in. Keeping up with the timeline may be difficult.

The fact that Patrick is gay is an aspect that helps the story move along, but it's not overstated or heavy handed. The story is really about Cat and her own path to forgiveness and her own return to the world.

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Review: Rebel Angels

Rebel Angels (Gemma Doyle, #2)Rebel Angels by Libba Bray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I quite love the type of book that keeps me guessing until the end. The girls, Gemma, Felicity and Ann are on the search for Circe, who wants to harness the power of the realms for herself. As I read, I told myself, it can't be (this person) but I know it is. But it could also be this other person. I'm not sure.

I like being unsure of who the antagonist is and how they fit into the story. If I can guess too easily, there is little incentive to finish.

Rebel Angels kept me engaged, from trying to figure out who Circe was to watching Pippa become corrupted by the realm, to wondering, along with Gemma, who she could trust and what he implications for trusting the wrong people are.

Because it's a trilogy, I knew going in that Gemma wasn't going to die, but their discovery of Circe's identity and the events that ensue, left me wondering what Libba Bray had in store for the third novel.

Hopefully my copy will come in the mail soon; I can't wait to read the last book in this series.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

#bookstack happiness, Borders sadness

Today was my last day in Indianapolis, visiting my family and watching my brother graduate from college. There's this cafe I like up near Keystone at the Crossing, and my sister and I took my mom there for a Mother's Day lunch. Fantastic omelets, by the way. Around the corner from the cafe is

I used to come here when I was in high school (which is down the street). They had the best selection of jazz. So it made me sad to see this:

But, and I'll admit it, I'm a little bit of an opportunist, so I went in and came out with

That haul doesn't even count the books I picked up at the two Half-Price Bookstores my brother and I went to. Good thing I left space in my duffle.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, April 29, 2011

Review: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn (Eon, #1)Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up Eon this year at the book fair because I like dragons (loved Chris D'Lacey's Last Dragon Chronicles), and because the cover (though not the one you see above) was intriguing. I'm a fan of Jackie Chan, Jet Li, kung fu movies, and between the image on the cover and the blurb on the back, I was intrigued.

Eon is a Dragoneye apprentice--he hopes to win the favor of the dragons (See the Chinese zodiac for each animal dragon) and help, essentially, save the Chinese empire from being overthrown by an evil, power-hungry general. The problem, however, is that Eon is actually Eona, a girl. And in a patriarchal society there aren't female dragoneyes.

Besides the complex plot that follows the steps of the archetype of the hero journey quite nicely, I was most interested in the issue of gender as it played out in the novel. Not only was Eona passing as male, but there is an issue with another character who presents as the opposite gender. In a time when there is a call for more young adult literature that deals with transgendered issues, I liked how Eon dealt with transgenderedness--not forefronting the issue. Readers see both reactions to the character, from acceptance, to utter disgust.

My favorite statement in the entire novel was made by Lady Dela. In discussing the power of women, especially in a time period when women do not hold the same power as men, Lady Dela said to Eon, "'You are wrong when you say there is no power in being a woman. When I think of my mother and the women in my tribe, and even the hidden women in the harem, I know there are many types of power in this world...I found power in accepting the truth of who I am. It may not be a truth that others can accept, but I cannot live any other way. How would it be to live a lie every minute of your life? I don't think I could do it'" (p. 245). I'd offer up commentary, but I think Lady Dela's words speak for themselves.

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