Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission

That last post on choosing books to include in a classroom library was a good little thinking exercise for me.  Even though I'd hit the "publish" button and walked away, the question continued to roll around in my mind-vice.

I have to ask: why bother keep a classroom library or books for pleasure reading, anyway

My response is to have books on hand that students can enjoy.  The fact of the matter is that many of the books we read in high school weren't meant for consumption by teens or tweens; I somehow very much doubt that John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway were worried about what Justin Bieber might get out of their works.  Though Shakespeare wrote for even the crude groundlings, his work has lost touch with the groundlings' modern equivalents from a pure linguistic evolution.  So, bottom line is, even though these pieces are timelessly relevant or part of a cultural awareness, it's not always right for our kids*.  Pieces that weren't written for them are turning them off to reading, making them believe that reading is an exercise that must be avoided when possible and (mildly) tolerated when not.

So, if my point of stocking the classroom shelves with "fun" books, should I really be "censoring" them?  My gut says "no."  I want to be able to hand a book to a kid and say, "Try this, you'll love it."  OK, maybe it has a sex scene.  OK, maybe the main characters engage in some illegal activity.  But if s/he could like that one book and know that there is more out there, more to love...isn't that worth it?  Besides, is one "clean" book really going to change a teen's mind about drugs/sex/etc.?  Chances are, that mind has already been made up, more heavily influenced by their peer groups and role models.  Note to self: Stop worrying so much about what the moral of that book is and just get the kid reading.  They might not "get" that moral anyway, but if they enjoy the book anyway, isn't that the point?

I still wonder if a parent were to pick up this child's book and catch a scene with drinking/smoking/sex, how is that backlash going to affect me? (C'mon you know it's going to happen.  How many times did you watch a movie as a kid and have a parent come in at exactly the wrong moment.  For me, it was Eddie Izzard's "Dress to Kill" routine where he is imitating Robert de Niro and literally dropping the F-Bomb every other word.  Cue Dad walking in.  Cue hand to forehead)  While you and I both know the parents could use it as a great conversation starter with his/her child, it is more likely going to be a controversy-starter, with the parent charging into my room, waving the book about and demanding to know just exactly where my ethical compass is. (Nevermind that these same students could have rented or attended an R movie with said parent just last week)   I've been known to be a little too cautious at times.  Perhaps this is one area in which I could take a risk, throw off my cautious restraint. Better to ask for forgiveness than permission, right?

I still think I'll lean more towards stocking my shelves with YA.  It's written for them, so I can feel a little more confident about content.  I also know it's going to be more immediately relevant to them.  But if I read a book and think a kid might enjoy it - for whatever reason - I shouldn't be afraid to put my copy on the shelf or recommend it to a student.

*I don't think we should throw out those classics.  There are certain pieces that are part of our cultural consciousness, and they might not be read outside of the classroom.  They should be part of a balanced diet, pairing them with contemporary books with similar (or even contrasting!) themes.  If we could just work more contemporary literature into our classroom at all, we might some significant headway towards regaining a love of reading. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Choosing a classroom library

When is a book TOO controversial to put on your bookshelves?

Do you think any form of selection would be censorship or do you draw the line somewhere?  And why?

I draw a line, mostly from a standpoint of What do I hope a student gets out of this novel? and How much trouble could this book get me in?

Unfortunately, the latter is more of a concern.  I just quite frankly don't want to have to deal with some parent charging into my room, screaming at me about a book their child chose to read for enjoyment.  (What kind of reinforcement is that for the kid?)

I am currently reading The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell.  Now, honestly, I'm not sure if Bushnell intends for this to be a YA novel or just fun fiction for fans of Carrie Bradshaw in general.  And I don't have a problem with sex in a novel (well, okay, I have some limitations with it, as I don't intend to put any Nora Roberts or other novels with descriptive sex scenes on a classroom bookshelf), but there is a lot of thinking & talking about sex in this novel but without a lot of clear messages. 

Carrie is the only virgin out of her friends, but she doesn't really explain why she is waiting.  She has opportunities, but has yet to fully articulate why she isn't ready.  Another scene that comes to mind is when one of Carrie's friends threatens to get pregnant to keep a guy.  Carrie is the voice of reason in the scenario, and (thankfully) the friend comes off as somewhat unhinged.  Still, I'm not totally sure that a younger reader would remember that former scenario, when same friend mentions later that sex isn't a big deal, you finally have it and then wonder why you waited so long to do it.  Again, friend has already been established as unsympathetic, but in the latter scene, neither Carrie nor any of her friends respond to Crazy Girl's proclamation.  The opportunity is there for a discussion about why it is smart to wait, etc., but it passes on by.  I'm just not sure what message a teen would walk away from this book with.

Or am I being overprotective?  Should I just accept the fact that teens are already having sex and have probably already made up their minds about it?  Would a book really have any impact on that?

How do you pick which books are worthy of your classroom shelf?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Professional Texts

Do you read a lot of professional texts?  I admit, I don't.  I have picked up a few things here & there from various conferences but most of them I've been able to kind of graze through, picking out certain lessons or approaches.  I'm not one for self-help or nonfiction generally, so the idea of reading dry pedagogy texts in my free time...well, it doesn't thrill me.  I'd rather go to a conference where I can engage a little more with the material through the speaker, examples, or colleagues.

Still, I should probably do more of it.

This is currently my to-read list, all of which I picked up from teacher blogs...I think.

I spotted Harvey Daniels' Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles and want to give that a go.  Anyone have experience with it or could recommend a book for Literature Circles?  I really like the idea of LCs but have yet to really figure out an ideal way to use them -- kids didn't always stay on topic, treat the discussion seriously, or even speak up within their groups in the past.  Better than I had feared, but seemed like it was lacking something.  So, there.  Lit Circles.  Any helpful texts or suggestions?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vocabulary Football

Here's a "Softball" entry to get started again.  I got this one from one of my college roommates who is also an English teacher (3 of us lived together in one room for 2 years, all English majors and still BFFs.  Truly a miracle).

Vocabulary Football

Setup: Print & cut out a picture of a football (sample provided).  Probably good idea to laminate it if you can and adhere a magnet on the back.  Draw a football field on the board, complete with 10-yard increments and endzones.
To play:

1.       Flip a coin to see which team receives the ball first. Let them decide which side of the field they want.   Begin at the 20-yard line.

2.       Go down the rows and ask each team member a question. If the team member answers correctly, 10 yards are awarded. Be sure to move the football.

3.       A FUMBLE occurs if the player gives the wrong answer. It becomes the other team's turn, and they get the same question (the football stays at the same yard line; it just moves the opposite direction).

4.       An INELIGIBLE RECEIVER is a wrong player on the team giving the answer. It becomes the other team's turn, and they get a new question.

5.       OFF SIDES occurs when someone on the other team answers. The team with the ball is awarded 10 yards and gets a new question.

6.       It is time to PUNT when the ball is fumbled three consecutive times. Say, "Punt." The first person from either team to raise his hand and give the correct answer is awarded 10 yards and his team gets a new question.

7.       If a team gets a TOUCHDOWN, award six points. The additional point may be earned by answering another question. If the team wants to go for three points, make the question more difficult.  It now becomes the other team's turn at the 20-yard line.

She says she even had the football players loving English class on this day!

Source:  BFF/Colleague

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Blogging is a full-time job

Or at least part-time.

I don't understand how some of these bloggers do it; blogging in and of itself seems like a full-time job, nevermind the job you actually get paid to do!  If I had a classroom, I would probably be more motivated to write entries on a regular basis.  This is mainly because I'd have a constant source of inspiration.

As it is, I have one-on-one kids who are mostly sweet and only occasionally say/do the craziest thing.  I also don't have any freedom with the curriculum, so I didn't worry about coming up with interesting/new ways to teach the material.

I think being unemployed full-time has made me lazier.  Granted, time management has never been a forte of mine.  But I think it's gotten worse.  I need to write better to-do lists.  I still have a cache of ideas that I saved for blogging but have not utilized them, mostly because I spend my mornings doing Heaven knows what.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You can't stop me from breaking into song

Forgive me, friends, if I seem a bit too cheery for a Wednesday afternoon. But I have the sudden urge to burst into song.

Do you have your kids sign your yearbook at the end of the year? I was too anxious to ask the kids to sign my yearbook - silly isn't it? - because who knows what they might say. But my kiddos this past year I really missed, so when May rolled around, I asked the gal who took over my classes to offer the book to my kids. She graciously agreed.

The transport of said book got a bit sidetracked, but I've finally gotten it. The comments made me laugh and cry all at the same time. The girls, of course, were a bit more effusive than the boys, some of whom merely signed their names. But there was one message that positively made my heart stop. A young man, one of those "still waters run deep" kind - somewhat reserved, smart, but shied away from his potential in favor of being "cool" - wrote me a short note thanking me for challenging him and always pushing him to do his best.

I wanted to hug him and burst into tears simultaneously.

One thing I hope to do with my own flesh n' blood children is encourage them (read: make them) to affirm and thank teachers they love or feel challenged by. I hope to make sure that even when my students are in high school, their teachers receive something (a note, anything!) on Teacher Appreciation Day, even if I have to send it by way of carrier pigeon to do so. We teachers don't get much affirmation but when we do, words can't adequately express our joy. Even the tiniest hint of it can keep us uplifted for weeks.

My prayer for you this week is that you too may experience some little sign of affirmation, just a little something to keep you going and remind you of why you do this.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oh my gaw...

Scene: Small office-turned-tutoring room in a tutoring center. High school senior and teacher sit across from each other at low tables, working on the essay portion of the SAT. Teacher introduces material in book presenting different ways to provide evidence to support your thesis. Book provides a sample outline to complete, so teacher asks student to take a side on the prompt, which is "Is violence ever justified?"

Teacher: OK, so can you think of a historical example that might help prove your thesis that violence is sometimes justified?

Student: a war.

Teacher: Good, okay. Which war?

Student [shrugs]: Any war.

Teacher [thinks]: Oh My Lord. [gulping down her terror, says] Well, pick one. Remember we want to be as specific as possible in our examples.

Student: The Iraq War.

Teacher [growing increasingly frightened]: OK, so why was the Iraq War justified?

Student: Because of New York.

Teacher [crying inwardly]: OK, what about New York?

Student: The planes.

Teacher: OK, I think I see what you mean. But can you explain better? Remember we have to be specific.

Student [looking at Teacher like she's an idiot]: Because the terrorists.

Teacher: So, because terrorists flew planes in New York, we went to war with Iraq? How is that justified?

Student: Because they're from the Middle East.

Teacher [momentarily stunned. Students' words hang in the air].

Teacher [gathers her wits]: So, because they live in the Middle East, we should go to war against them.

Student: Al-Qaida?

Teacher [seeing a light at the end of the tunnel]: And what does that have to do with Iraq?

Student: They were... there?

Teacher [grasping the thread of hope, whatever it may be]: OK, now we're getting somewhere. So the Iraq War was justified because terrorists from al-Qaida, which was responsible for violence in New York, were hiding in Iraq. See how we had to make those very specific connections? You can't assume your reader is going to know what you mean!

Student [relieved. Writes down connection in essay's outline]

Teacher [decides to suppress the innumerable frightening things about what just exchanged]

I didn't bother to set this kid straight because A. she's one of my lower-achievers and needed a little encouragement, not nit-picking. B. we clearly didn't have time for a history lesson. Hell, a modern culture lesson. She later in the session had no idea what a "jihad" was, which seems unbearably sad considering she is a teen in this millennium. Of course, in her defense, when asked "What might any world religion or group of people have to say about 'violence is sometimes justified'?" She didn't come up with the Crusades, Inquisition, "eye for an eye," or Cherokee war games either.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Let's watch a grown man cry

Oh, Tony Danza.

Has anyone watched this special where Tony takes on an English classroom? I haven't yet watched it, but I intend to. I have seen clips in which he is in tears. I am strangely comforted by this sight.

Interview on Today show with Tony & Clips from the show.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Parenthetical citations don't have to be a pain!

Let's see here...the kids have their topics, you've reviewed paraphrasing and note-taking, and have spent some time in the library. Next step -- writing!

My suggestion: plan to go to the library about three days total (in 50 minute classes). Take them 2 for note-taking, return to the classroom for some drafting, THEN go back to the library for final note-taking. Since they're new to this research thing, they don't really know what to take notes on when they get to the library. Then they begin writing the story and realize, "Oh, I could really use X information here!"

Before drafting, take a day or two to go over parenthetical citations and works cited. Depending on your group, you can do a works cited page FIRST and then go over citations, or vice versa. I've done it both ways, and I think you just have to know your kiddos. As you can imagine, either way will take a couple days.

Works Cited First

1. Print off some of the How To manuals from Cambridge Public Library's awesome resources(and yes, they're already updated with the new MLA formatting!). Number each packet to create your own class set of manuals. These stay on the desks from class to class and are the reference manuals students use as they create their source entries.

2. Pull up a short Works Cited powerpoint and go over the process. Direct students to these How To Manuals to make their works cited entries. Remind them that the final works cited is in alphabetical order. Do not differentiate between types of sources, sources that have authors or don't, etc. Make the citations, then put them all in alpha order.

3. Have them take all their source pages and make works cited entries for them. No, they haven't used them in the paper yet, but it will come in handy when you are going over parenthetical citations. When everyone has a drafted works cited page, continue to #4.

4. Go over the powerpoint on parenthetical citations and have them take notes. You can show them, "Look, the first item from your works cited is what appears in the parenthesis, EVERY TIME."

5. When they begin drafting and ask what to put in the parenthesis, you can direct them back to their works cited. In this way, they are constantly referring to the page and seeing how the citations and works cited work together.

5.5. On a certain day after drafting has begun, give them a quiz on parenthetical citations.

6. (Herein lies the problem with this method) At the end of the process, emphasize that a Works Cited page is a list of "works that you cited in the paper." On the last day of drafting, remind them that any source that is NOT used in their paper, must NOT appear on their Works Cited page. Say it until your face turns blue, because even still, some will not go back and trim the WC.

Works Cited Last

1. Introduce the powerpoint on parenthetical citations and have them take notes. In the ppt, I tried to cover the possible scenarios my students were most likely to encounter, knowing the materials they were working with. You may need to add more if your students will be using databases.

2. Practice with a short citation exercise they can do as a class. Review and make corrections.

3. Draft. (Herein lies the problem with this method) I found that students had more questions as they began drafting. I put a lot of time into those parenthetical citation notes & examples, and I got tired of answering questions that were literally spelled out on the page in front of them, so I made a policy: "You have to FIRST check your notes before asking me a question. If you ask a question that is ON YOUR NOTES, I will just walk away."

3.5 On a certain day after drafting has begun, give them a quiz on parenthetical citations.

4. When students have finished drafting, now work on the Works Cited page. Tell them to go through their paper and put a star on the source pages that they ACTUALLY USED in the paper. It might be good to have them make separate piles on their desk, just so you can get visuals to see if they understand.

5. Print off some of the How To manuals from Cambridge Public Library's awesome resources(and yes, they're already updated with the new MLA formatting!). Number each packet to create your own class set of manuals. These stay on the desks from class to class and are the reference manuals students use as they create their source entries.

6. Pull up a short Works Cited powerpoint and go over the process. Direct students to these How To Manuals to make their works cited entries. Remind them that they are only making entries for the sources they used in the paper. Also remind them that the final works cited is in alphabetical order. Do not differentiate between types of sources, sources that have authors or don't, etc. Make the citations, then put them all in alpha order.

Once your kids have some drafting done, return to the library for any supplemental notes they wish to add. Schedule a few days for peer review, nab a computer lab for final drafts, or assign them to finish it at home.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hold yer horses

But wait! Did I just send you off to the library without a refresher on paraphrasing?

Oops! That was my mistake my first year - silly me, thought a general review of the term "paraphrase" would be enough. When kids got into the library and started just copying word-for-word from the book, I realized we needed a refresher. So, learn from my mistake - make sure before you go into the library they remember how to paraphrase.

Since, in all honesty, paraphrasing should not be a new skill to 10th graders, even if they might need to brush up on it, I combined this lesson with one on media reliability. Again, I was going to send them off to the library, where they would naturally (and fairly) assume that in a school library, just about anything they pick up would be a reliable source. But I knew it wouldn't be long before they attacked the computers. Again, a good defense is a good offense! (or is it the other way? Whatever. Be prepared!)

Materials: Printed notes, PPT, Reliability of Source Pages

1. I had students do the "fill in the notes" practice with the first half of this powerpoint to save time. Hand these out.
2. Go over the Powerpoint regarding paraphrasing, emphasizing its importance in research. I introduce a short discussion of the value of paraphrasing in the first slide when I go over the definition.
3. Students fill in their notes as we go through the PPT. Stop on slide 3 for them do to the practice provided on the notes page.
4. Continue with a discussion on media reliability. I admit I stole this latter part of the PPT from a website, but I can't even remember who/where I got it. If the author wants his/her name on the latter part of the powerpoint, please speak up and I'll certainly give you credit here!
5. At the end of the powerpoint, I have students break up into groups to practice discussing media reliability, an activity I picked up from the Gateway Institute. Here is a list of possible sources for the stated activity: Media Reliability Exercise. Print each on the center of its own page, and hand each group a set.
Alternative: If you have a big enough class, give each student a source and reserve 3 or 4 students to place their classmates in order. In this way, the whole class can discuss together. Encourage the students holding sources to speak up if s/he feels s/he could be more appropriately placed.
6. There is no "correct" answer. When a group feels s/he is done, go over to their group and ask them about certain items, just to make sure they thought about their order. Ask them how easily they agreed on this order, or what items gave them the most trouble. If you feel strongly that they have missed a certain idea, correct them. But in general, if they can defend their reasoning, go with it.
7. As closure, give each student a post-it note after reviewing his/her group's order. Tell them to mark on the post-it note whether the group completely agreed with the final order and whether or not s/he would have moved one item.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ready, Set...Write!

While doing some blog housekeeping recently, I realized I left out some other aspects of the research paper I use with my kiddos!

After students practice creative perspectives with Waldo, select their topics, and read sample papers, we get ready for our research. I use my own method for note-taking which includes one full page for each source. It is basically a combined source card and notecard, expanded across an 8.5"x11" page. There are a couple reasons I don't do index cards: I am not required to make 10th graders use notecards, I find them to be onerous, and I never used them myself in college. If you want to get away from notecards and are interested in seeing my example, I've provided a link to a sample page at the conclusion of this entry.

After students have done a bit of research - maybe after a day or two, we do a hypothesis & brainstorm. This is usually just a simple homework assignment or even a closure after a day at the library.

Just some simple prewriting...
This paper doesn't have a "thesis" per se, but students have to have some direction to it. So instead, they get to develop a "hypothesis." They will choose ONE possible explanation for their mystery and use that to formulate the plot of their story. I give my students the following:

Hypothesis: On your own paper, copy this sentence, filling in the blank with information about your paper.
I am telling a story about ____(topic)____, and I've decided the explanation I will focus on is _____________________________________________________."

For some reason, this can sometimes confuse classes. If you want to give them an example from a topic no one is working on, go ahead ("I am telling a story about crop circles, and I've decided the explanation I will focus on is that aliens make them in attempts to communicate.").

Then they must brainstorm possible ways to tell this story. Remind them of the different formats they saw from the sample papers. I give my students the following:

Brainstorm: List at least 4 different ways or perspectives you could use to tell your story. Circle the one you intend to use.

Again you can give them examples from a topic no one is working on.
Crop Circles: 1. a newspaper article about random crop circle appearances; 2. a short story about aliens creating the crop circles; 3. a first-person story about visiting my Uncle, a farmer; 4. a news report script/interview with farmers and experts

After you've made sure everyone is on the right track, then you can let them start drafting!

Source & Notes Page Sample

Monday, October 4, 2010

"Metacog" Reading

Well, active reading is great and all, but what am I supposed to do if I can't write in the book or read aloud in class? They need to actively read at home, too!

Are you saying you don't follow each and every single student home and stand over their precious shoulders as they do their homework? No? Just me?

For all you slackers, I came up with my "Metacog" chart: a graphic organizer and active reading all in one! (and there was much rejoicing)

Check it out!

It's pretty straightforward. Just to ensure that my darling little angels are reading and reading actively, I require them to copy this chart into their notebooks and fill it in as they read. I used this for homework on assigned novels and booktalk books.

Remind them that they don't write in the first column - that is just the title for the row. They write in the second and third column. The second column should be a brief description of the scene ("Ruby is talking to her therapist") and page number, just so they can't make up any ol' thing, and the third column is whatever their prediction/question, etc. is. They must complete each skill over the course of that reading assignment. They don't have to do it in order, of course, just have to make sure they do one of each.

As kids get the hang of it, feel free to have them fill out the chart themselves. Make more rows, and have them fill in multiple predictions/questions/comments/connections. They could do 5 comments and 2 questions for all I care. I just want them to actively read! This chart is easy, doesn't require your making copies, and (I think) effective.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

More songs, more fun!

Over the summer a friend shared with me her extensive list of songs she uses to complement lessons on poetic and literary devices. She worked hard to provide a wide variety of artists and genres, and I should say she accomplished her goal! She also added a few new categories to my original list, including one for short story plot chart, so students could practice analyzing the elements of a plot (exposition, climax, etc.) through songs that tell stories! Awesome, huh?

Go take a look at the post now
. It's burgeoning with fresh material, waiting for you to bookmark it!

And, as always, if you have anything to add, leave a comment and say so!

Poetic Devices & Music...

Friday, October 1, 2010

Active Reading

If there's something I've learned about ordering people around, is that they want to know why they are doing something, students especially. Granted, they'll find a way to complain about just anything if it's that kind of a day, but in general I've found that if you can convince them that the work has value, they'll do it. Begrudgingly, but with a tad less resistance.

It is for that reason I give my students a short spiel about active reading, even introducing the term "metacognition." (I also find if you throw around scientific terms/studies to back it up, they will also begrudgingly accept the fact that, hey you know what you're talking about. They're all about the propaganda, those teenagers.)

Since I couldn't have students mark up their textbook for active reading, the next best thing is to do this orally, as we read together. I took a note from my student teaching mentor teacher and made little "Metacog" cards.

Making "MetaCog"/Active Reading cards
1. You will need 3 or 4 3x5 or 4x6 (your preference) index cards.
2. You will need markers/fine-tip Sharpies of as many different colors as you have index cards (i.e. 3 or 4)
3. Using a different color per card, on one side of the card write:
4. On the other side, I write a giant question mark and make a funky border. You could do the same or write "MetaCog" or "Active Reading" or whatever fun quirky title you want to give this activity.

In Class...
5. Explain the idea of active reading/metacognition to students.

Explain however you so choose, but you will need to eventually lead explaining the skills that are on the cards.
  • Prediction - predict an event or plot twist or character development, etc. Make a guess as to something that will happen in the next few pages or in the next 100 pages.
  • Question - question the text. Are you confused about what is happening? Is there an unfamiliar word? Do you wonder what a character's motive/etc. is? You as teacher may choose to answer it or not. I usually don't unless they claim to have no clue what is happening, then I have a peer help explain.
  • Comment - comment on something happening in the text. This is the "freestyle" section. Anything from "I can't believe she just did that!" to "Don't go in there!" to "I wish I could do that!"
  • Connection - connect something from the book to anything outside of it, be it another book, movie, or life experience.
6. Explain that you are going to give the cards to 3 (or 4) random students.
7. As the class reads, you will periodically call out a color.
8. The student with the card of that color must then offer a prediction OR question OR comment OR connection on the text. Student's choice.
9. After s/he does so, student gets to pass the card to whomsoever s/he chooses. And next student must accept! (this invokes that slight element of cruelty that makes it a little fun to watch).
10. After the card has been passed, class will continue to read. At the appointed time, teacher will call out a new color, and the process repeats.

I make a little chart for myself ahead of time, tallying which colors I've called so I don't call the same one over and over or in the same order. Like to keep 'em on their toes.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sing it with me: I love surveys!

Oh, why not? So I added these questions to my previous survey, and now, because I love surveys, I will answer them.

If you had to choose...

1. Chalkboard or Whiteboard? Whiteboard. I would be the teacher with giant chalk prints all over herself otherwise.

2. LCD projector or ELMO? Tough call! If I had to choose...probably the ELMO. That way we can mark up student papers as a class.

3. Teacher on a cart or a Classroom with 3 bulletin boards? OK, so at first I thought "Cart, as long as I could have a filing cabinet somewhere" because I really hate bulletin boards. Really hate. But then I remembered you'd have to travel through the halls during class changes...and I sighed and accepted the bulletin boards. Final answer.

4. Computers in classroom or a computer lab? Computer lab. Maybe if I went to an in-service where they showed us realistic, useful ways to use stations with high school students, I might feel differently.

5. Fire drill or tornado drill? Fire drill. Mostly because it's a nice break, we get to stretch and get some fresh air, and it's not a big deal if the kids talk. Why fire drills are okay to talk through but not tornado drills, I dunno.

6. Field trip or pep rally? Pep rally. The idea of planning/running/being responsible for a field trip terrifies me.

7. Office volunteer or club sponsor? Club sponsor! The idea of answering phones and dealing with all that administration stuff: also terrifying.

8. Old quirky classroom or independent mobile/portable? Mobile. I've heard teachers say they enjoy it, plus I've had the old quirky classroom. The paint peeling off the walls, the threat of thank you!

9. Faculty meeting, PLC*, or In-Service? PLC definitely. I love to swap ideas with fellow teachers, and I liked my fellow 10th grade English teachers. Perfect combination.

What ONE thing do you want your kids to know when they walk out of your classroom at the end of the year? I want students to know the art of questioning and critical thinking: to know there is always more below the surface, and to explore those depths with enthused curiosity.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Oh, oh, I have an idea!

Frivolous questions to add to teacher survey/meme:

If you had to choose...

Chalkboard or Whiteboard?

LCD projector or ELMO?

Teacher on a cart or a Classroom with 3 bulletin boards?

5 computers in classroom or a computer lab?

Fire drill or tornado drill? (and if you choose a Code 3/Lockdown, what is WRONG with you?)

Field trip or pep rally?

Office volunteer or club sponsor?

Old quirky classroom or independent mobile?

Faculty meeting, PLC*, or In-Service?

What ONE thing do you want your kids to know when they walk out of your classroom at the end of the year? Yes, ONE.

*professional learning community or whatever your school might call it.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Still alive

Just going through a bit of a blogdentity crisis.

I have a stockpile of ideas that I collected in anticipation of "slow days." I expected to be able to still use my day-to-day experiences as motivations and discoveries and keep the stockpile for emergencies. But I didn't anticipate having a collection of No Days.

That and I just haven't been "feeling it," which I know (from telling my students) is no excuse.

So stay tuned as I give my rear a much needed kick in the pants.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

10 Books for a (MS) Classroom Library

These are some of the younger books that I just adore but probably wouldn't promote as "necessary" for a HS classroom.

The Mysterious Benedict Society (Mysterious Benedict Society, #1) 1. Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee

The Goose Girl (The Books of Bayern, #1) 2. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

100 Cupboards (The 100 Cupboards, #1) 3. 100 Cupboards by ND Wilson

Tangerine 4. Tangerine by Edward Bloor

The Outsiders 5. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

When You Reach Me 6. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

The Graveyard Book 7. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Face on the Milk Carton (Janie Johnson, #1) 8. Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney (or one of her more contemporary works, Code Orange)

White Fang (A Watermill Classic) 9. White Fang by Jack London

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow 10. Hitler Youth by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Monday, September 6, 2010

10 Books for a (HS) Classroom Library

10 Books for a Classroom Library (HS)

The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, #1)1. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Looking for Alaska2. Looking for Alaska by John Green

Twisted3. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Such a Pretty Girl Speak4. Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess / Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Boyfriend List: 15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver (Ruby Oliver, #1)5. The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart

Cold Sassy Tree6. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

American Born Chinese7. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

The First Part Last8. The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Book of a Thousand Days9. Book of 1000 Days by Shannon Hale

Impulse (Impulse, #1)10. Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

(ok, so it's technically 11...I'm not good at making decisions. Even still, I feel bad about leaving others out...but these would be a top 10 to give an adequate variety, I think)

Friday, September 3, 2010

10 Must Have Back-to-School Teacher Supplies

10 Must Have Back-to-School Teacher Supplies

1. Band-aids

2. Ibuprofen

3. Chocolate stash

4. Post-Its. Many, many Post-Its.

5. Calendar with School Appointments/Events/Dates

6. Colorful pens (orange, bright blue, pink, green, purple...anything but red)

7. Legal pads for notes-to-self, faculty meetings, and professional learning communities

8. Dry erase erasers (I run out of these before I run out of markers)

9. Fine-tip Sharpies in a variety of colors

10. Color-coded hanging accordion files

What are your must-have teacher supplies?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

10 Things

Teacher Meme

1. I am a good teacher because… I constantly strive to make learning fun through researching creative & challenging lesson plans/strategies.

2. If I weren’t a teacher, I would be… a stay-at-home mom.

3. My teaching style is… centered on respect and student-empowerment. I respect them and expect respect (for me and their peers) in return. I give them opportunities to take ownership of their learning through responsibility and passion.

4. My classroom is… currently much smaller and without any personal touches.

5. My lesson plans… aren't always fantastic but generally reflect the amount of time and thought I put into making the material engaging.

6. One of my teaching goals is… ONE?! to strive to learn more and be a better teacher every year. And to try a variety of grade levels.

7. The toughest part of teaching is… not always reaching every kid, by either just not knowing how or just missing him/her in the crowd. (it's a tie between this and bringing the kids home with you, emotionally)

8. The thing I love most about teaching is… getting to know young people and working with a new generation, wondering who they will become.

9. A common misconception about teaching is… that we are done by 3pm, have free & easy weekends, and 3 months off. All real teachers know the truth of those myths, so I won't get into it.

10. The most important thing I’ve learned since I started teaching… has been two things: 1. it is possible to love them through strict/strong discipline (i.e. don't be too nice.); 2. Don't beat yourself up for mistakes/little things.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


The Lords of DisciplineThe Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars ("Amazing!")

I've included this novel in my "ya lit" reviews because although it isn't technically YA Lit, I think young adults could relate.

An absolutely amazing novel. This book was recommended to me during an AP Conference, and I can certainly see why. This novel is easy to read no matter your age, but probably especially powerful for young adults who are seeking their own voices and identities.

Our protagonist, Will McLane, a cadet at the Carolina Military Institute (known simply as The Institute), answers the call to keep an eye on the new freshman, Tom Pierce, the first black student to enroll in the fall of 1966. This task sets Will to reflect on the current climate of the Institute. The novel unfolds in four parts, 3 focusing on specific and monumental events in Will's senior year, and one flashback to his own plebe year. All these events eventually converge in Will's present, forcing him to uncover the truths and demons of The Institute, including the possible investigation of a mysterious and dangerous society ("The Ten").

This is one of the few books that I am giving 5 stars to based purely on my holistic reaction. This book isn't without its faults, namely that I'm still not entirely sure why the storyline with Annie Kate was absolutely necessary. But I'm willing to forgive it and some of the other little faults simply because the total piece is so gripping, interesting, and compelling. As hackneyed as it may sound, it is true: I laughed, I cried... (it was better than Cats!)

Conroy is a master of suspenseful writing, that's for sure. I probably got more out of listening to this on audio simply because there were several scenes in which I was dying for information to come to light, where I found myself gasping in shock or gripping the steering wheel, telekinetically urging the narrator to read faster. If I'd had a novel in-hand, I probably would have sped-read through those pages and missed a great deal of his lush descriptions, apposite metaphors, and engaging characterizations. This is a book worth talking about, so don't read it on your own; grab a friend, book club, or classroom, and dig in!

Recommend: Yes, but it is a military institute in the 60s. There are obscenities including use of the N-word. This would be a great book for older grades.

Topics Discussed: Honor, Brotherhood, Loyalty, Truth, Class Divisions, Prejudice, Identity, Respect

View all my reviews »

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Another winner!

Looking for AlaskaLooking for Alaska by John Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars ("Amazing!")

First thoughts: A great, thoughtful book with real characters and real dialogue.

Miles doesn't much have a niche where he "belongs" in school, so he finds it fairly easy to shift ground and enroll in a boarding school in Alabama his junior year of high school. He goes intending to seek the Great Perhaps, as inspired by the last words of Rabelais. At Culvert Creek, he instantly finds himself in a circle of friends who - consciously or not - are seeking the same. The title character, Alaska, is the central, enigmatic character around whom the boys cluster. She keeps the group together through her alternately ebullient nature and her mysterious distance. Miles experiences more than he perhaps ever intended to in that first year at Culver Creek, and he has Alaska to thank for it.

The book is definitely not for younger readers, but it will grip you from beginning to end. A real treat and honestly written by newcomer Green. This book inspired me to pick up others by him (e.g., Paper Towns).

Recommend: Yes

Topics Discussed: Identity, Existentialism, Relationships/Connectedness

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Here's a Five Star one...

The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars ("Amazing!")

Absolutely fantastic. Amazing. Gripping. I couldn't put it down!

Katniss, our protagonist, lives in a post-apocalyptic society. Years before she was born, a war raged and resolved, leaving in its wake the broken system currently in power. The Capitol is at its heart; ironically, the Capitol itself has no heart, as it maintains control of the states by mandating the annual play of The Hunger Games, in which each state must surrender one boy and one girl to fight to the death. Katniss lives in one of the poorer states, and Kat works hard every day to support and provide for her mother & little sister. When her sister is chosen for the Hunger Games, Katniss steps forward to take her place, determined to provide safety for her sister & mother. What unfolds is a riveting tale of cunning, survival, and power - both evil and good.

The first 25 pages or so seemed like they might be cliche ("Dystopian YA, like that hasn't been done before"), but once Katniss got to the Capitol, I was convinced this was anything but. Hunger Games is definitely a new classic - one of those rare YA books that could transition well into the classroom, as The Giver, The Outsiders, and Catcher in the Rye have done before it. Speaking of classroom lit, I think this could be beautifully paired with Fahrenheit 451; really, anything with a theme of man vs. society would work (1984 and Cuckoo's Nest also come to mind), but especially F451 due to the concerns of the individual and technology/reality TV.

Katniss's voice is captured expertly in her straightforward, down-to-earth diction and syntax. I think just about anything else I could say of this book would be repetitive of the many many glowing reviews already out there. Read it.

And have book 2, Catching Fire, on hand. And pre-order book 3, Mockingjay, which is released in a week.

Recommend: Yes!

Topics Discussed: Family, Loyalty, Dystopia, War/Violence, Corrupt Society, Power of Individual...there's a lot.

View all my reviews >>

Friday, August 6, 2010


RiotRiot by Walter Dean Myers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars ("Liked It")

In the style of a screenplay, Myers outlines the racial tensions - born of economic frustrations - of the 1863 riots in New York. Clare, our protagonist, must grapple with the issue of identity when her very being prevents her from knowing which "side" she belongs to. The audiobook version is presented with a full cast including soundtrack and effects; it is extremely well-done and works surprisingly well with the format. Some of Myers' scenes or characters don't feel perfectly cohesive with the overall story arc (namely a cameo by Walt Whitman and Clare's meeting of soldiers). In general, however, the book is well-told and an engaging read.

My only pet peeve with this book? It's too short! Myers starts a few days into the riots, but I think he lost a lot of climatic tension that way. It would have been interesting to see more build-up. Still, though, even Myers' average books are better than most.

This would be an excellent book in the classroom to accompany a unit studying cinematic techniques. And...oh, what's this? Why yes, I have fun ideas on just that!

Recommend: Yes, but mainly to middle school students

Topics Discussed: Race, Historic Events, Identity, Violence

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Such a Pretty Girl

Such a Pretty GirlSuch a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really Liked It")

This is an gritty, raw book. Without getting too graphic, Such a Pretty Girl maintains an intensity and honesty in addressing the very real terror and fight for control of a young girl who has been raped by her father. The plot of the novel takes less than a week to unfold, as Meredith fights to regain control of her life, her body, and her identity when her pedophile father returns from prison. Though it packs quite a punch, it is not without hope or heart.

It has been a long time since I finished a book in under 12 hours because I just COULD NOT put it down. I am definitely interested in reading more by Wiess. There are layers to this book, full of symbolism & motifs that make it a rich read for adults who enjoy picking apart the literature.

Technically I found this book in the adult fiction section of the local bookstore, which brings up an interesting question of What makes a novel YA?. I would definitely warn students that it deals with a very emotional and powerful issue, but I think they would find Meredith's story awesome and inspiring. Not for younger readers, but definitely worth sharing with young adults.

Recommend: Yes but high school or older.

Topics Discussed: Sexual Abuse, Family Dynamics, Independence, Self-Respect

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer Book Review - When You Reach Me

When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really Liked It")

Now THIS is the way it's done! I don't want to give away too much, but this book makes allusions to A Wrinkle in Time and let me just say, this is much better (I don't much care for AWiT). However, it is difficult to say what I like about the book without spoiling too much!

The book begins with a strange falling out between Miranda, our narrator, and her best friend Sal. Left without a single friend to fill the gap, Miranda has to readjust her world and life at school. In the midst of these new changes, she begins to receive - find, really - strange notes addressed to her. The notes are short, cryptic, and know a great deal about Miranda...including things that have yet to happen. The notes urge Miranda to not say anything to anyone, but reassure her that they are meant to save her friend's life. But which friend? When? And why?

The book unravels bit by bit as pieces begin to fit together. Readers can probably catch on to the mystery and conundrum before Miranda does, but only because we perceive the events within a narrowed scope, whereas she has her entire life's context to sort through. Miranda's honest and direct voice captures her audience from the get-go. I was surprised by how quickly I fell under the spell of this novel.

Miranda is 12 years old, and with such a young protagonist, it will probably most appeal to younger teen readers - middle school ages. I'm not entirely sure why it's necessary to take place in the 70s -- if anyone could speculate as to the contribution of the setting, I'd like to hear it.

Recommend: an enthusiastic YES!

Topics Discussed: Time Travel, Friendship, Honesty, Love

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Quick Note

YA series I am currently enjoying: The Boy Book by E. Lockhart (book 2 of the Ruby Oliver series)

Children's Lit series I am currently enjoying, nay, falling in love with: Dandelion Fire by N. D. Wilson (book 2 of 100 Cupboards)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer Book Review - The King's Rose

The King's RoseThe King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really Liked It") (truly, 3.5)

If you know the mnemonic rhyme about Henry VIII's wives, you are already familiar with the fate of Catherine Howard. A young girl of only 15, Catherine is thrust into her family's play for power and wealth by accepting a marriage to the king. By this time, Henry is a good deal older and his age is beginning to become quite apparent through his failing health. It is imperative that she maintain the king's favor and deliver an heir. Though Catherine's first few weeks at court are spent reveling in new luxury, she does indeed feels this expectation from her first days as Henry's wife, driving her to choices that ultimately seal her fate.

Having read The Lady Elizabeth, I did not enter this book with a favorable opinion of Catherine, but Libby does the girl justice. Above all, the novel posits that Catherine was a mere teen more likely caught up in her own family's politicking than being power-hungry herself.

Perhaps Libby's best writing, though, is in the final 40 pages, in which we begin to see Catherine's status as Henry's beloved wife take a sudden plummet. Catherine's own mental state begins to unravel, which is adequately portrayed in her moments of confusion and terror.

Recommend: Yes, especially for fans of historical fiction

Themes Discussed: Moral choices, Historicism, Betrayal

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

YA Lit request

Sometimes I get into a rut with reading. Such is the case now, although it could be worse. I find myself more in the mood to read YA Lit than anything else. That's not so bad. But I'm having a hard time branching out and finding new/unique YA Lit.

So, I ask you...anything YA you could recommend? What should I be reading next?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Book Review - How I Live Now

How I Live NowHow I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars ("It was amazing")

Rosoff's fascinating narrator tells a compelling story of the impact a modern war would have on the everyday teen. It's a little bit of an experience for many post-GenY teens (no, really, what is their generation's nickname?) who have no idea what it is like to have a war fought on their home soil. The narrator, Daisy, goes through an amazing growth and change throughout the novel as she fights for survival with her cousins. She recounts the early days of the war, when the scenario felt more like a game, to the later days when they hid in the wilderness and didn't know if members of their family were still alive. Daisy's transformation and character growth is well done, seeing her ushered from a self-pitying young teen into a clever, determined young woman.

What a truly amazing book! I listened to this on audio and found my jaw dropping at times. I couldn't get from CD to CD fast enough. The violence and utter destruction of war is aptly portrayed, as is the dispersion (and unraveling) of families and friends. The book is quick and easy to follow, and could easily appeal to boys or girls.

Recommend: Yes, but only to mature 8th graders and up. See Topics Discussed

Topics Discussed: Anorexia, War/Violence, Sex (Daisy has a relationship with her cousin...a little weird for modern audiences)

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Summer Book Review - Revelations

This next installment is actually the third book in the Blue Blood series by Melissa de la Cruz. Previous reads are Blue Bloods and Masquerade .

Revelations (Blue Bloods, #3)Revelations by Melissa de la Cruz

My rating: 2 of 5 stars ("Eh...It was OK")

The thing about this series is that if you think too hard about the concept driving it, it starts to fall apart. So, my simple solution is: I don't.

For whatever reason, I find these engaging and fun reads. I think it's the characters. Though there are obvious moments of de la Cruz living vicariously through her characters (the modeling/fashion scenes), the young protagonist and her sidekicks (Bliss & Oliver) are charming, clever teens. I'm engaged with them and the mystery they are attempting to unravel. This book lost some of the "historical fiction" appeal that the first and second book had (moreso in the first), which is unfortunate, as it was an aspect of the books that I particularly enjoyed.

I would caution fans of the earlier books to not expect too much from this one. It doesn't have the more solid feel of the first or second novel, but it's still entertaining enough. For me, this is ultimately just a guilty pleasure; I know it's not terribly good, but I enjoy it anyway.

Recommend: For people who enjoy paranormal/vampire fiction, Yes, but with reservations - it's a guilty pleasure. Don't expect too much. And definitely read the previous two first.

Topics Discussed: Fantasy, Destiny versus Freewill

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Summer Book Review - Willow

WillowWillow by Julia Hoban

My rating: 2 of 5 stars ("Eh...It was okay")

This book started at four stars for me. Willow was a sweet, likable character whose experience in losing a parent at a young age is relatable for me. Some of the wisdom she shares about the power of grief and awkward condolences and peer relationships are so incredibly true, well-stated, and sensitive. At first I thought it would be a book about cutting. Then I thought it would be a book about grief. Then I saw how neatly they were intertwined for Willow, and I admired that feat.

Now, Willow was likable, but I wasn't always sure she was entirely believable. Having lengthy literary discussions at the age of 16? Pretty rare. It really appealed to my inner English major nerd, but I don't know that even I would have had a conversation like that at the age of 16. It was then I began to have doubts about these characters.

Willow lost a star rating when she just wouldn't stop whining. I'm sorry, but that's it. Putting aside the grief and and the guilt she feels, we get a LOT of whining from Willow. It is a pet peeve for me when characters torture themselves needlessly because of their own refusal to communicate with another character. Willow could have spared herself a lot of pain and loneliness if she had confronted her brother early on about the change in their relationship. Instead, she "tests" him in subtle ways, evaluating his responses in an attempt to read his mind. That really, REALLY bugged me.

*spoiler alert*

The other slight qualm I had was the fact that Willow & Guy manage to have sex without ever actually saying the word or any euphemism for it. Same goes for the use of a condom. I realize teens will be teens but honestly -- if you aren't even mature enough to SAY sex (or even use a euphemism! "make love" "sleep with", etc.) then you probably shouldn't be having sex. But that's just a drop in the bucket. By that point, the book had already dropped a star and had lost another half.

I rounded down to a two because my concern is that there's a subtle message of "get a boyfriend, solve your problems!" here. Numerous times I wondered if this would be better with a female friend or even a completely platonic male friend accompanying her on her journey. I just think it's a dangerous pit that hurting teens fall into - they can't rely on leaning on someone else to solve their problems.

Recommend: Generally, No. More sensitive-teen types will appreciate Willow, but few adults or more pragmatic teens.

Topics Discussed: Cutting/Self-Mutilation, Death, Grief

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Book Review - Paper Towns

Paper Towns Paper Towns by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really liked it")
I was set to give this book a 3.5, but rounded up to four from the last part of the novel.

After a crazy night of pranking with Margo Spiegelman, Q wakes up the next morning to find her gone. This is something Margo has done previously, but her time spent with Q the night before both scares and stimulates him -- he needs to find her. Together with his best buds, they look for Margo, study a little Walt Whitman, and discover something about relationships and their own faults and strengths.

Green seems to have a thing for precocious, uninhibited thoughtful girls, as Margo reminded me a bit about the tragic Alaska in his award-winning novel, Looking for Alaska. Similarly, the guys in this novel are precocious nerds (not unlike the hero & supporting cast of Looking for Alaska), who seem to be too smart for their own good. Still, on the whole, the guys are fairly relate-able, finding enjoyment in typical male humor (balls!) and late-night video gaming.

I won't spoil anything, but I'll just say that Green does well to stay away from the formulaic - there were a few points in the novel I thought I knew what would happen next, and I was going to be very irritated if so. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. The last few pages of the book contain an extremely cathartic scene, which definitely makes the journey worthwhile.

Recommend: Yes, with a strong conviction to keep with it - the ending is worthwhile.

Topics Discussed: Finding Identity, Community of Human Nature

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer Book Review - Wake

Hope you had a delightful Fourth-of-July weekend! We still have fruit and pasta salad leftover from our little (very little) party here.

Wake (Dream Catcher, #1) Wake by Lisa McMann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really Liked It")
This book is as gripping as the dreams that capture our protagonist! The conflict challenging Janie is a unique one: she gets dragged into other peoples' dreams, forced to partake as a silent bystander in the dreams of friends and peers. This trait has been a part of Janie's life since she was a young child of 8, but as she progresses through the teen years, it begins to take a new life. Through repeated focus and concentration, Janie learns to take control of this supernatural ability. Though she studies what she can on her own, it is not until she receives some surprising help that she finally begins to take ownership of this talent/curse/responsibility.

It feels a bit rushed in parts, which is why I docked a star. I did find McMann's use of space on the page interesting. Typically authors use page breaks to designate a passage of time, as in a day or "meanwhile..." scenario. McMann, however, often utilizes the spacing on the page to prolong tensions and silences within a particular scene. Took me back to my studies on reader response critical theory.

It turns out this is the first book of a trilogy. Warning - make sure you have the other two on hand when you check this out from your local library. You'll likely devour this one in no time at all and be immediately hungry for more!

My reviews on Fade (book 2) and Gone (book 3)

Recommend: Yes, definitely

Topics Discussed: Alcoholic family members, self-realization, empowerment, being different

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Summer Book Review - 100 Cupboards

100 Cupboards (The 100 Cupboards, #1) 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really Liked It")
Forgive the comparison, it will be made - this is a sort of modern Lion, Witch, & the Wardrobe. Well, OK, from the standpoint that there are other worlds of fantasy that can be entered through portals disguised as ordinary household objects. When Henry goes to live with his aunt & uncle in Henry, KA (yes, really), he discovers secret cupboards hidden away behind a wall of plaster. What are these strange doors? What are they doing? that mail coming in one of them? With his cousin Henrietta to help, Henry discovers more about the house, his own history, and worlds of fantasy than he ever before imagined. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. The characters are dear, and I would love to see more of them.

One of the special things about this book is that there isn't a slew of despicable adult characters. In fact, the adults in this book are on the whole very warm, charismatic, and trustworthy. I dare you not to fall in love with Uncle Frank.

The magical suspended reality is done quite well. With a 12-year-old protagonist, it's probably on the younger side of YA lit, but late elementary through early high school students would enjoy it. There are scenes that are downright creepy in that fantastic, engaging way of the imagination. The writing style had delightful turns of phrase and personification, which adds a delicious richness to the text suitable for adult palates. All in all, a fun book for a family to read aloud or listen to together.

I'll warn you now; it's the first book of a series, so be aware of that when approaching the end. It is probably the only reason that I deducted a star. Though I loved the book overall and can't wait for more, I think 100 Cupboards held back a bit, in anticipation of books to follow. (the second is Dandelion Fire and I intend to get my hands on it ASAP).

Recommend: Yes! I would definitely recommend it to younger YA audiences or for a family read.

Topics Discussed: Magic/fantasy, independence and courage

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Summer Book Review - The Luxe

If you have questions about any of the books I review, ask away!

If you want me to read and review a book, make a suggestion!

If you want to argue with me about my interpretation, leave a comment!

The Luxe bThe Luxe (Luxe, #1)y Anna Godbersen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars ("It was OK")
Human nature hasn't changed much over 2000 years. This includes teen girls. These cunning, ruthless, and competitive late Victorian "ladies" could hold their own against the Paris Hiltons and Kristin Cavalleris of the 21st century. The Luxe, set in turn-of-the-century New York, recaps the deceit, betrayal, and pressures of several young socialities.

This book had long caught my eye mostly because of the lavish cover. That sumptuous dress commands the attention of your inner princess. Unfortunately, the novel didn't live up promises of its lush cover. It was a bit of a let-down. I had heard it was a take on Gossip Girl for the late 19th century, but the parallels are just too much. I could easily substitute certain characters for GG personas and the audience wouldn't bat an eye. Characters are just cliches, from the gay-best-guy-friend to the uptight, socially conflicted goody-good. Most of our understandings of the characters came from direct characterization, rather than allowing readers to deduce it from the unfolding action. The overall plot was also quite predictable. It was mindless fluff, but I'm not sure I'll be picking up the others. In general, I was pretty bored, merely trying to get through it as quickly as possible.

Recommendation: I would probably recommend it to teens who are fans of Gossip Girl or students who are interested in fashion or historical fiction.

Topics Presented: Social/familial pressures, historical attitudes, betrayal

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Summer Book Review - Confessions of Georgia Nicholson

Confessions of Georgia Nicholson (#1 & 2) by Louise Rennison

Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #1) Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really Liked It")
This first installment introduces Georgia Nicholson who provides us with a funny, snarky romp through the diary of a younger (brattier) Bridget Jones. Our narrator, Georgia, has the typical 'tude of a fourteen-year-old girl, but thankfully, we readers get to enjoy her snark and wit, rather than be a victim of it. I'll concede that at times Georgia is difficult to like, which probably costs this book a 5-star rating. In a slight defense of her, though: I know I was a complete brat from 13-14. Bad, bad times that I can look back on now with a slight shudder. And her relationships with her friends? Well, while they're not warm & fuzzy bonds, they are pretty typical of relationships with girls at that age. Why do you think teen girls seem to go through new groups of friends each year from 6th-9th grade? Despite the mean streak in Georgia, she still had me laughing out loud too often to dislike her tale. I will warn you, though, the ending is a killer, so make sure you have book 2 on hand!

Recommend: I would definitely recommend this book to younger teen or tween girls, from 5th through 9th grade and adults with a sense of humor who enjoy chick lit and YA lit.

Topics Presented: This is pure fun fluff about being a young (silly) adolescent, fighting with parents, drooling over boys, and trying to grow up.

And while I'm at it...

On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God: Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, #2) On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God: Further Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars ("Really Liked It")
Once again we get to join Georgia in her angst-ridden quest to avoid Kiwi-a-gogo with her family while simultaneously trying to hold on to her Sex God, aka Robbie. The former problem gets solved, but what about the latter? Is there trouble in paradise? And what is WITH her mother?

On the one hand, Georgia is as horrible & incorrigible as the first novel; because of that, I feel like I should dislike her...but I really don't.

A couple issues I had with this book are some strange characterizations. The first is her little sister Libby, who acts more like a 12-18 month old than a preschooler. The other strange characterization is that Georgia does NOT look forward to her developing "basoomers." Do you know any preteen girls who DIDN'T want breasts? I didn't know of any when I was in middle school! This little detail about Georgia strikes me as v. strange.

Other than those little points against Rennison, Georgia is still hilarious and an apt representation of a fourteen-year-old girl. She seems mean at times to her best friend, Jas, but really...what girls are actually good friends to one another at that age? All the girls are equally self-conscious and self-absorbed, so it works. I do worry, though, that with 8 more books in the series, Rennison will try to continually capitalized on Georgia's teenage selfishness and continually write from the perspective of an early teen rather than having any development from young Georgia.

There are a total of 10 books in the series thus far, and I think I will be picking up the rest. A true guilty pleasure for a thinking adult!

Recommend: I would definitely recommend this book to younger teen or tween girls, from 5th through 9th grade and adults with a sense of humor who enjoy chick lit and YA lit.

Topics Presented: This is pure fun fluff about being a young (silly) adolescent, fighting with parents, drooling over boys, and trying to grow up.

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