Thursday, December 31, 2009

Favorite Books of 2009

Hmm... I hate to repeat what others have already said, but I have to say that Katniss and Peeta and Katsa and Po enthralled me in the YA category this year. These fiesty women and their sidekicks just thrilled me to no end. They are definitely at the top of my list!

In the adult fiction category, I would have to say that I loved Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, and FLW still lingers in my mind...

And, my favorite teacher book this year would HAVE to be Kelly Gallagher's Readicide. If all teachers would read this and follow Gallagher's suggestions, then we wouldn't have a reading crisis in our schools--

Out with 2009...and not too Soon!

As you can tell by the title, I was not too thrilled with 2009. It began [crappy] day ONE and didn't quite let up. I hate to sound maudlin at the end of the year, but I would have to chalk this one up as one of the worst. And, I still have much to be grateful for. My family is healthy and happy, my marriage is in tact, my job is rewarding and yet the world seems to have crashed down around me during this year. I won't go into details but I have some uplifting ways to end this post.

1. I have been keeping a gratitude journal since Thanksgiving and it's been a wonderful uplifting piece of the Holidays. In fact, I give it credit for my literally sailing through the last month or so virtually stress-free! :) I will definitely continue this tradition into 2010.

2. My resolutions are as follows (besides #1): to use my gifts of baking and teaching to help others, to meet my weight goal, and other religious goals that I don't really need to display to the world.

3. I would like to let people know about this great website called 29 Gifts (there is a book too). I am definitely going to sign up on Jan. 1 (tomorrow) to start my decade off on a positive note
I love the calendar where you can keep track of what you give and what you receive.

4. I will remember what my priest told me recently: "Even if you end up with nothing, you still have each other."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Faith, Hope and Ivy June

This was a sweet book that I picked up in audio from NCTE and my own children really enjoyed hearing it as well. Ivy June is chosen for a first-time exchange program with a wealthy school called Buckner Academy. She will go and live for two weeks with Catherine Combs in Lexington, Kentucky and Catherine will then spend two weeks in Cumberland Gap, Kentucky. This is like city mouse and country mouse but so heartwarming it makes you want to cry. I really did at the end! Driving around with tears on my cheeks. Naylor is adept at creating a beautifully scenic story full of endearing humans. This is a great novel for any tween and Ivy June's grandfather (Paw Paw) will surely bring to mind any beloved relative of your own. The audio version was very well done by Karen White, whose accents for the city and country families was wonderful!


Merry Christmas! I can't believe I got so caught up in the Christmas spirit that I forgot to blog! I have been reading though....

The biggest news is that Santa brought me the Kindle I've been so longing for and we're off to Indiana today- I have 4 books packed in one tiny, thin little e-reader. I am so geeked about this. On the way to NCTE this year I started up a conversation with a woman about her Kindle and we talked the rest of the flight. I have been obsessed with the little thing for about a year now. My husband's greatest worry is that I'll bankrupt us with loading books onto it. Currently, I have the following: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton and The Life of Saint Benedict (can't forget the Benedictine part of me). Why no YA books? Well, I'm currently trying to finish LIAR by Justine Larbalestier in ARC form and then I am working on other ARCs from Penguin (which aren't available in Kindle format). Well, I had to compromise somewhere.

I did, however, blow through Splendor by Anna Godbersen, which is the 4th book in the Luxe series. This is my guilty little YA pleasure. History and slightly better "gossip girl" stuff rolled into one. Better clothes by far.

I was glad Godbersen stayed true to the characters she had created but it was a little too neat for me in the end. The novel didn't really imitate real life for me but teen girls will find twists, I'm sure. A couple of the characters really did learn the hard way, but too many people seemed to show up at "exactly" the right time. Here is a short synopsis by character.

Penelope- Tired of life with Henry who isn't interested in her after he returns from the war, Penelope goes looking for more "excitement."

Henry- is finally experiencing and learning what it is to be a real man and not a spoiled rich boy.

Elizabeth- is carrying Will's child but learning dark secrets about her husband's past.

Diana- is following her dreams even though she has all she could have ever hoped for.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wake by Lisa McCann- First in a trilogy

Janie is haunted by other people’s dreams. She is mysteriously drawn into the crazy and mundane dreams of her high school classmates like being naked at a football game. No one else knows of her ability because she doesn’t know how she would explain it. But, all of a sudden she is drawn into a haunting and gruesome dream that involves a man with knives for fingers. Then enters Cabel who has been transformed over the summer into “superhotguy”. He and Janie are instantly attracted to each other and share a very rocky relationship throughout the novel. Cabel has a secret, however. He also can enter the dreams of other people. And, he has a secret job Janie doesn’t know about or understand until the end of the novel. Janie’s alcoholic mother is all but absent so this novel is about adolescents on their own. After a party where many people get arrested for drug use- including Cabel- Janie puts the pieces of her dreams and her relationship back together.
This novel will appeal to reluctant readers because it is fast paced and a quick read. Janie is a very realistic character and her budding romance with Cabel will appeal to teens. This is the first in a trilogy- 2nd book Fade was out Feb, 2009 and Feb. 2010 Gone will be published.

Savvy- By Ingrid Law

Mississippi Beaumont (known to her family as Mibs) is about to turn 13 and that’s when the members of her family find out their savvy or secret power. Her brother, Rocket, can create electricity, her brother Fish can conjure storms and hurricanes, her grandfather can move the earth in the form of quakes and her mother is perfect in everything she does. However, just before her birthday, Mibs’ dad is in a huge accident on the freeway and is in a coma in a hospital quite far away. Mibs’ mom and brother Rocket go immediately to tend to her father while the rest of the 5 children in the family stay with the pastor’s family.
On the morning of her 13th birthday Mibs seems to have the ability to wake people and thus she believes this is her savvy. At an impromptu birthday party thrown for her, Mibs leaves and states she is leaving for the hospital. Perhaps she can wake her father as well. She sneaks aboard the bus of the bible selling man followed by an entourage of her two younger brothers and a brother/sister pair who are the children of the pastor and his wife.
This unusual assortment of characters continues on their bus adventures while trying to reach Mibs’ father at the hospital. Along the way Mibs’ discovers that her savvy is actually related to ink. The tattoos of those around her actually come alive and talk- telling Mibs exactly what the person is thinking or feeling. In addition, Mibs can hear the ink drawn on anyone’s hand which creates quite a cacophony at certain times in the novel, but eventually ends up helping her in various ways.
Savvy is a sweet, feel-good kind of novel with honest and touching characters making some rather large discoveries about themselves. And, it’s not just the teens in the novel who have these flashes of self-realization

Thirteen Reasons Why

I can't believe I haven't read this yet! What a wonderful novel and I'm flabbergasted that it's been challenged in different places. I was intrigued by the sexual bullying premise and I love how Asher captured what rumors can actually do to someone's reputation. And, the character of Clay Jensen was very real, right down to his ability to cry. Does Asher know females love that character in a male? At NCTE I heard Asher speak on a panel about censorship. He talked about how he wrote two different scenes for his editor for the "hot tub" part, and the editor chose to go with the more graphic version. However, that is usually the reason, says Asher, that his book is banned.

Since I have a little time tonight, I will post some of my book talks from our session at NCTE.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


I found this cool poem format on Miss Rumphius and challenged my students to write one for their Reading Response this week. All haynakus published are written by students and about their books. See Comments.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

ARCs I Can't Wait to Read!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green

Before You Read This, I'll Be Dead by Julie Ann Peters

I will post my NCTE book talks in their abbreviated form sometime over the weekend.


ALAN is always a fantastic conference, but I think I came away with even more books this year! I just finished Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, which I can't believe I never read. What a haunting novel!

"Alice" aka Kyla is abducted at 10 years old from a zoo field trip by Ray. He has kept her at his apartment and "loves" her like a "daughter" for five years and Alice's disappearance is never solved. Kyla is also replacing the "last Alice" who Ray killed when she got to old for his liking. Now, Ray is on the lookout to replace "Alice" with a new younger version. This novel left a horrid feeling in the pit of my stomach, probably because I have an almost 10 year-old daughter. The writing is passionate and real with a speed to the prose at the end that is reminiscent of LH Anderson's Wintergirls. A departure from her romantic realism, Elizabeth Scott has done a phenomenal job of creating these characters and lingering setting. Ray is one of those horrific characters who will make all mothers of young girls lock their doors tightly!
I am now settled in NYC for the long weekend after finishing ALAN today and I have a load of novels to keep me busy on the long drive home Sunday. Happy 94th Birthday, Grandma!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

NCTE-Day #3

Today was a great curriculum day as I started out at a session with my own wonderful NCTE Buddy-Roommate, Dr. Jennifer Buehler. She'd die if she knew I wrote her name like that. The most humblest of fantastically smart people I know! The presentation on Cultural Relevant Pedagogy was just what our district needed to hear and we were represented by all 4 people from our district who were here in Philly for the conference! The discussion ended with wonderful conversation which didn't cease until after lunch when we parted to see Katie Ray Wood. I am still longing for a Philly Cheese Steak! However, I did have the best pastrami reuben I've ever had at Herschel's deli over at the Reading Street Market. Then, I have to admit, I took a nap. The ALAN cocktail party started at 5:30 and I met Maggie Stiefvater (of Shiver fame) and she told me there is another book called Linger!

These authors are so fun and bubbly that I have lost my "awe" of most of them. They're just regular people-but huge celebs to geeky English teachers like we are! Also met: Sharon Flake, Francisco Stork, Lauren Myracle, Maureen Johnson and I was looking all over for Elizabeth Scott but couldn't find her! Maybe tomorrow.

S. and I ate at a wonderful and recommended Vietnamese restaurant and then I felt so full I worked out for almost an hour. Tomorrow starts ALAN and I can't wait to see which books are in my box!

NCTE Day 2- At Night

Last night was a dream for me. I was invited to dinner by the wonderful people at Penguin who provide me with wonderful books to blog. A huge thank you to Scottie Bowditch, Kim Lauber, Rachel Moore,and Emily Heddleson for providing me with the tools to do what I am doing. I sat at a table with author Rosalind Wiseman of Queen Bees and Wannabees fame. She told me there is a new version out that has a whole section on cyber issues and queen bees. I am reading it over break! Great food and wine left me weary but oh so content.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day #2- NCTE

What a whirlwind today. Woke up late and was late for hearing Laurie Halse Anderson. I tried to get in later, but there was a crowd out the door. I will hear her during ALAN as well. So, I went to listen to Penny Kittle who was absolutely inspiring in showing the audience the persuasive videos her students had done. I can't wait to try them with kids at home. Next came The Sisters with their explanation of their CAFE system of literacy. Very overwhelming for me but they were immensely entertaining. Jeff Kinney kept me in stitches explaining how he came to write the Wimpy Kid series. Next I went to help the awesome Jeff Kass during his "Wrestle The Great Fear" performance where I did a very mediocre job of being a "techie".

Kelly Gallagher, who apparently everyone wanted to see, was wedged into a room three sizes too small for the number of people who wanted to see him. Thus, I went to Middle Mosaic for the full time where I met Michael Scott, Becca Fitzpatrick and Daniel Kirk (Yeah! Library Mouse!). For the second time in my life I also got to see and hear Nancie Atwell in person which is always a treat. She is a gracious and poised force to be reckoned with if you are an NYT writer trying to berate choice in Reading Workshop. Thank goodness we have voices like Nancie Atwell to speak for those of us who know Reading Workshop and choice are the way to teach.

Friday, November 20, 2009

NCTE- Day #1

What a great opening day. We started out presenting in session A and we were pretty happy with it but know it could use some tweaks for next year. The books I book talked are listed above. We were so honored to be chaired by Teri Lesesne, who is my reading and teaching heroine. :)

After our session, I sat in on a great panel on censoryship with Lauren Myracle, Jay Asher and David Leivthan. I then scored an ARC for David Levithan and John Green's new book called Will Grayson, Will Grayson and I can't wait to read it! I also got to meet the famous Rachel Moore from Penguin, who has been sending me ARCs to review for the last year. Very appreciative!

I then went to see Alfred Tatum even though I have his new book but haven't had time to read it. How inspirational! I will use his premise to show my school that Read 180 and Culturally Relevant Pedagogy for struggling readers and writers are diametrically opposed.

I ended the day with attending a session on Photovoice done through Pioneer Middle School in Michigan (just a short hop from my district!). I can't wait to try to do this with my students this year in and around Ann Arbor.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Nation by Terry Pratchett: I know this will seem like blasphemy to some of you, but I’ve never before read a Terry Pratchett novel. However, I have to follow that up with “and…I enjoyed it incredibly”. This Printz finalist is a book about two young people crossing the threshold into adulthood, but it is so much more as well.
Mau lives on an island somewhere in the Pelagic Ocean and is off on “Boys’ Island” learning to become a man. As he is making his way back to his people, the Nation, and the feast that awaits him, a giant tidal wave wipes out his island, leaving him as the only survivor of his people.
Nearby on the same island, is the wreck of the Sweet Judy, a British ship carrying Ermintrude, who is the only survivor and a very proper British girl. Ermintrude quickly changes her name to Daphne and she and Mau learn to speak to each other in toddler-like sentences in each others’ language. Both Daphne and Mau are rebuilding the Nation that has been swept away. They need to find food and make the Island beer, a very important part of Mau’s Nation. More and more people join this island group and the next wave of refugees brings a woman, her starving baby and an old island priest named Ataba who deems Mau “soul-less”, thus he begins referring to him as “demon boy”. Mau begins to show his responsibility as an adult when he chases down a wild pig and milks her so the baby can have some nourishment.
The next group of visitors requires that Daphne “buck up” and delivery a baby- which is accompanied by a hilarious scene where the natives insist Daphne must sing the ancient song to bring new babies into the world. Since Daphne doesn’t know the song, she sings “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” over and over until the baby is born. Through pantomime, Daphne convinces the new parents that Twinkle probably isn’t going to be a good name for the baby, so they settle on “Guiding Star.” The rising action of the novel involves more Nation re-building with Mau and Daphne at the helm. Mau consistently insists he is not a true man and may even be a demon even though his actions and thoughts prove otherwise and the new island dwellers refer to him as The Chief. At one point, Mau and Daphne, who has now shed most of her proper British behavior, explore an ancestral cave and Daphne discovers that Mau’s ancestors were one of the first world explorers.
Ultimately, Raiders come to the island led by the evil first mate (Cox) of Daphne’s former ship. He challenges Mau to a duel of the Chiefs and the Nation is able to prove itself a working society once again. The end brings a wonderful and funny reconciliation and the realization that Daphne may indeed be closer to Royalty than she thinks.
It is the big questions in the novel that set it apart and make it award-worthy. Mau and Daphne are simultaneously discovering which places and people make them who they are as well as realizing what happens when those places and people are rearranged in one’s life. The wave that hits the island is metaphorical for any difficult time, so even though this novel takes place in a “parallel universe” as Pratchett describes in the back of the book, it is universal in its appeal to young adults. Likewise, the use of the word “Nation” can refer to any Nation building or peer-oriented scale. Pratchett also deftly handles some of life’s biggest philosophical ideas here including religious beliefs and facing our own personal demons. Dry humor abounds and there are laugh out-loud portions; I especially loved the confusion when Mau says he wants to learn Doctorin’ and the British Bishop thinks he means Doctrine. As I have found with my students, the cover of this novel can turn off some of them, so it is well worth anyone’s time to give it a good book talking.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another Hiatus?

Yes, yes. I am still here for those who read this thingy. I have been mired in Read 180 (ugh) and the start/middle/end of the first quarter of the school year. Time is a precious commodity these days and I am saving every extra minute that I have for reading. However, I have not been BLOGGING those books- I promise (myself) that I will return to regular entries as soon as our NCTE presentation is over with! I do have my list ready to go so get ready for the barrage of entries during the conference in Philadelphia next week.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Reading Reasons by Kelly Gallagher and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

On an 8 hour round-trip car ride to Indianapolis this weekend, I managed to engulf two books. The first, I feel embarrassed to admit, I hadn't read yet- The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Of course, it takes a full reading to realize what all the buzz has been about since its publication. Suffice it to say that I LOVED the character of Frankie and her blossoming of self-confidence and self-reliance. I love the power Lockhart gave to Frankie, which ultimately led to her coming of age. It's good to read about an intelligent young woman! I will be recommending the novel to lots of young women I think just need a boost and reminder of their power as women. No wonder this novel has been showered with awards!

I also plowed through Kelly Gallagher's Reading Reasons and started using the mini lessons from chapter 3 today in class! Although the Read 180 kids didn't quite get the correlation between reading and their job some day, I will continue my quest! However, the Word Attack mini lesson gave my regular 8th graders a good look at how roots work in vocabulary. I am anxious to share this with colleagues even though I've already introduced most of them to Readicide, Gallagher's latest.

Some Picture Books

I love Amy Krouse Rosenthal and my kids and I gobble up everything she writes. Her upcoming book, Bedtime for Mommy, will continue to delight children. A little girl goes through the bedtime routine of bath, stories, and tucking mommy into bed and then heads off to get daddy ready. LeUyen Pham is the illustrator and her paintings add depth and humor to an already wonderful book. Release date is March 30, 2010 by Bloomsbury.

February 2010 will see another Bloomsbury book sure to be a hit. Too Purpley by by Jean Reidy and Genevieve Leloup is about a little girl who can't find the perfect outfit to wear. What mother of a little girl hasn't been frustrated by this completely female trait? Each page is full of stripes, polka dots, plaids and other varieties of outfit combinations. Of course, my daughter loved the purple page!

Num8ers by Rachel Ward

This novel truly swept me off my feet in its originality. 15 year-old Jem can see a number on every person. It turns out that this number is the date of his/her death. After her own mother's death, Jem realized what the numbers she'd been seeing actually meant. When she meets a boy (Spider) at school who has a date a mere two weeks away, she becomes curious. However, as the two are standing in line at the London Eye, Jem sees that everyone around her has the same death date and she begins to get nervous. She and Spider run away from the scene right before tragedy strikes. They are then suspects in a crime and continue to run throughout the novel. The deftness of the plot structure here will keep kids riveted to the last page. I found the last 50 pages to be completely engrossing-and....there will be a sequel! I love how Ward threw that curve ball that I wasn't expecting at all. This novel is full of delightful "British-isms" that we have all come to know and love over the years. Jem's troubled life seems to get more complicated for the reader yet more satisfying for her as the novel progresses. I explained the premise of the novel and it was snatched up immediately which usually means there will be a "run" on this particular title come February 2010 when Chicken House (Scholastic) releases it. How sad is it now that I want the second one MUCH before the first is published!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Secret Keeper by Mitali Perkins

Asha (Osh to her family) is uprooted, along with her mother and older sister, from her home in Delhi to Calcutta, the home of her father's family, while her Baba goes to America to look for work. He promises to send for the family soon and Asha dreams of the days she will spend in America where, as a woman, she can do whatever she wishes. And, Asha's dream is to become a psychologist. While in Calcutta she pours her heart out to her diary, S.K. (Secret Keeper) on the roof at the family's home. While there, Asha befriends and falls in love with the neighbor next door, as he constantly studies her out the window while she completes her "roof writing." Money is tight for Asha's Calcutta household, as her Baba's extra income is no longer sent and there are now three more mouths to feed. Tragedy strikes and Asha struggles to find her way in a world where her 17 year-old sister is supposed to willfully succumb to an arranged marriage and Asha's mother is being held psychologically by "the Jailor."

This book had one of the most satisfying endings I've read in a long time. The sacrifices Asha makes and the growth she shows was truly heart warming. I LOVE books about India and this one didn't fail to draw me in to the culture. Just the description of Indian food, even for this poor family, made my mouth water. But, I especially loved the characters in this novel. Asha's cousins were more than just secondary characters, they had a fullness to them that gave the novel a very satisfying feeling. I especially love the layers to Asha's Uncle, who turns out to have a very giving heart in the end. Now, I'm having a hard time topping this one, but I have ordered Monsoon Summer and can't wait to read more of Perkins' work.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hmmm....Can't Decide

I know I'd make a terrible stay-at-home mom and I'm not really looking forward to going back to school. Can someone build me a cute English style cottage near the sea where I can read 24 hours a day? And sip tinkly drinks? Coffee w/ ice? Smoothies? I could take all my nutrients in through a straw and I don't think it would phase me in the least. Okay...end of summer prattle. I have been reading and I have been doing lots of moping, mourning, crying, whatever. My new chiropractor says that "all of those emotions have been repressed and stored up in my spine(?) and have to let themselves out." What? "How long will this last?" I asked. "No idea," he replied. So, without further ado, I will forge ahead with trying to make sense out of my life through books.

Currently, I'm trying to decide whether I like Katniss and Peeta or Katsa and Po better. I love both stories- and both romances. I will take a poll when school is underway.

Meanwhile, here's my widget from Good Reads. That will help make up for the lack of actual reviews in the last 4-5 weeks!

Jennifer Walsh's  book recommendations, reviews, favorite quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Far Behind!

How do I get so far behind? Is it the "BOY" in my life who doesn't give me a free minute? Someday he'll be older and then his sister will hit puberty. Help me! Momma never said "mommying" would be like this! :)

Here's what on my bookshelf and was read in July

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Diamond Willow by Helen Frost
The Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink
Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples
Year of the Dog by Grace Lin (audiobook)
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin (audiobook)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cupcake Giveaway!

I just mentioned in a previous post how much I love Jama Rattigan's blog and yesterday she featured chocolate- mmmm yummy. Along with my YA book blogs, I also read some yummy food and baking blogs that inspire me. This morning when I was reading a Cake Spy entry, I was directed to an awesome giveaway on Kitchen Dough Dough (what a cute name). Check out the cupcakes and comment to win. This is truly one of the largest giveaways I've ever seen in the blogosphere. Good luck and good eating!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin-Audiobooks

While driving back from dropping my oldest at her first week-long overnight camp, I listened to Grace Lin's The Year of the Dog. Jama Rattigan has raved more than once about what a great writer she is of both pictures books and longer novels for tweens. Since Rattigan's Alphabet Soup blog combines both children's lit and FOOD, I am drawn to it. I love how she combines my two favorites in life.

So, Pacy is the narrator of The Year of the Dog, and it starts with delicious descriptions of the Chinese New Year food her mother makes for the celebration. The Year of the Dog, according to her parents, portends to be lucky and will help you find yourself as well as a best friend. All of these come true for Pacy, the only Chinese-American in her school until Melody moves in. The audio is enhanced by a Chinese narrator who truly made Pacy's mom sound like a Chinese mother with an accent. Plus, it made my mouth drool! Readers and listeners find out that the novel is autobiographical and depicts how Grace Lin found her calling to write for children. I was able to finish it in exactly the time it took me to drive back home and I can't wait to read The Year of the Rat. My children will be enjoying Grace Lin's picture books right after I pick them up from the library hold this afternoon!

For an interesting article on the importance of food in children's books, look at this Horn Book article by award winning author Linda Sue Park. Still Hot: Great Food Moments in Children’s Literature by Linda Sue Park. The link is no longer working, but see if you can get a copy of this great read!

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Is there anything Laurie Halse Anderson can't write? I am so impressed by the variety of what she produces. As an avid follower of her blog, I am always struck by how down to earth she is (online as well as in person). Truly, I can't think of a better person to win all of the recognition she has. I always tell my 8th graders that every one of them should read Speak before they go to high school, boys and girls alike. It seems odd that I read the ARC of Wintergirls before I even read Chains, but I managed to make short work of it. Isabel is a slave who is sold to a cruel Tory couple (the Lockharts) in 1776 New York where the Revolution is in full swing. She endures the hardships of working for the Lockharts while losing her sister ("sold" the Madam tells her). Isabel finds herself torn between the two sides of the Revolution, not knowing who to support. In the meantime, she becomes a messenger runner for the Patriots. The book ends as she is finally breaking away from her evil owners and I can't wait for FORGE, which is the next promised continuation.

Not only is the novel beautifully written with great characters (I love Mr. Lockhart's ailing aunt who is kind to Isabel)but the research is incredible. Each chapter starts with a primary source quote pertinent to the rest of the chapter. This goes right to the top of my list for historical fiction. Anderson has also started a foray into picture books, which I can't wait to get my hands on!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Amelia Walden Award

The time is coming! I'm anxious to see who the finalists are on Friday! Since I know two people on the 6 person committee, I'm anxious to see who wins this award!

Here is the press release:

Inaugural Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award for Young Adult Fiction Launched

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is pleased and proud to announce the first annual Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award.

Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author, Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.

Amelia Elizabeth Walden was born in New York City on January 15, 1909. She graduated from Columbia University in 1934 and attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. From 1935 to 1945, she taught English and Dramatics at Norwalk High School in Connecticut. Walden wrote over 40 novels for young adults. She passed away in 2002 in Westport, Connecticut.


Over the past year, the ALAN Award Committee members considered 232 young adult titles for this inaugural award. The finalists will be announced on Friday, July 17, 2009. The winning title will be revealed at the November 2009 ALAN Workshop in Philadelphia, PA. A reception will be held in honor of all finalists, each of whom will be invited to participate in a public reading.

For more information about the award, please contact the 2009 AEW Award Committee Chair, Wendy Glenn, at

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Poetry Friday- The Words Under the Words by Naomi Shihab Nye

I wanted to post this to go with yesterday's review of Under The Persimmon Tree.

The Words Under the Words
for Sitti Khadra, north of Jerusalem
by Naomi Shihab Nye

My grandmother’s hands recognize grapes,
the damp shine of a goat’s new skin.
When I was sick they followed me,
I woke from the long fever to find them
covering my head like cool prayers.

My grandmother’s days are made of bread,
a round pat-pat and the slow baking.
She waits by the oven watching a strange car
circle the streets. Maybe it holds her son,
lost to America. More often, tourists,
who kneel and weep at mysterious shrines.
She knows how often mail arrives,
how rarely there is a letter.
When one comes, she announces it, a miracle,
listening to it read again and again
in the dim evening light.

My grandmother’s voice says nothing can surprise her.
Take her the shotgun wound and the crippled baby.
She knows the spaces we travel through,
the messages we cannot send—our voices are short
and would get lost on the journey.
Farewell to the husband’s coat,
the ones she has loved and nourished,
who fly from her like seeds into a deep sky.
They will plant themselves. We will all die.

My grandmother’s eyes say Allah is everywhere, even in death.
When she talks of the orchard and the new olive press,
when she tells the stories of Joha and his foolish wisdoms,
He is her first thought, what she really thinks of is His name.
“Answer, if you hear the words under the words—
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones.”

The poetry round up is here at Jama Rattigan this week.

Under the Persimmon Tree

UNDER THE PERSIMMON TREE by Suzanne Fisher Staples was published in 2005, but I just read about it in a blog (sorry, don't remember which one) that was suggesting good middle eastern titles. I picked it up from the library and was incredibly riveted. The novel takes place in 2001-2002 in Afghanistan right after the World Trade Center bombings. A family living in the mountains (outside of Kunduz) is devastated by what the Taliban does when it comes to their home. The young daughter, Najmah, takes a perilous journey with a neighboring family to find her brother and father in Peshawar, Pakistan. There, Najmah finds a blond American muslim woman, Nusrat, who is holding a "school" at her house while she waits for her own Afghani husband to return from Mazari-al-Sharif where he is a doctor running a free clinic. Nusrat cares for Najmah as the two discover the whereabouts of their loved ones in a very heart wrenching conclusion.

I have listened to the audio versions of SHABANU and it's sequel HAVELI by the same author. The rich cultural background Fisher Staples gives to these novels is outstanding, especially from the viewpoint of someone who knows very little about the region or customs. In this particular novel, Fisher Staples grapples with Sept 11, 2001, from the other side. It was a refreshing way to look at the tragedy- if that's possible. Did we understand, as Americans, what happened to the innocent civilians when we bombed Afghanistan? Did we know how fearful the Afghanis were of the Taliban? This novel really opened my eyes and would be a powerful teaching tool for students. I really want to add this to my collection next year and book talk it in September.

What's In My Shoebox

I read a really interesting post this morning from Carly H. at InkSplot. She picked up a used book called I Wanna Be Your Shoebox by Christina Garcia. Then, Carly went on to list 10 items in a shoebox that would represent her. This idea is somewhat like what I did with 7th graders last year when they filled a paper bag with items that represented them. I, too, want to try my hand at this- In my shoebox, there would be:

*small replica of a house because being a mom and wife is the most important thing in my life! Our house represents who we are and where our kids can feel safe.

*cake pan (to represent my love of baking!)

*packet of seeds (to represent my love of gardening)

*diet coke (like Carly, can't go a day without it. How sad :)

*angel statue (I have always felt connected to my angels and know they watch over me everyday)

*The Giver by Lois Lowry (one of the quintessential books, I think, that talks to kids about what it means to be individual and human. Begs the question: just because we can, should we?)

*St. Benedict medal (for those who know me, this is self-explanatory)

*chocolate (my drug of choice)

*notebook (to represent my love of writing- though you wouldn't know it by the blog entries- one a week in summer? sheesh!)

*ipod (how else will I listen to my coveted audiobooks?)

What's in your shoebox?

And, Happy Birthday to my grandfather who died three months before the first child in our family was born (my oldest). He would have been.....81 today. Love you Gramps!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sent by Margaret Petersen Haddix

A huge thank you to Laura Antonacci for getting this ARC to me so fast! I was a big fan of Found (the first book in The Missing series) and I couldn't wait to read the next installment in the series. Sent picks up with the characters Jonah, Chip, Alex and Katherine as they are transported to the 15th century where Chips and Alex are the King and Prince respectively. Jonah and Katherine don't actually have a place in 15th century England, so that presents some problems. The science fiction is woven masterfully into the historical fiction so that there isn't much of a ripple between the two.

I guess the biggest surprise to me was that this novel turned out to be more historical fiction than science fiction. Historical fiction is one of my true loves, but I admit that I had to go back and refresh myself on Richard III. My memory doesn't truly kick in until Henry VIII. I loved the historical viewpoint and the fact that these 21st century kids were worried about the anachronism of their presence. It took me a while to get back into the characters, as I had read Found a while ago. I did really like the novel and am now anxious to read the rest!

If I Stay

Mia's life starts out idyllic: it's a snow day and everyone in her family is home. As Mia's mom, dad and little brother make plans to go out for a drive during the day, we learn that her dad is a former punk band member who gave up much of what he did when children came along. He is now a middle school teacher but the love of music in this family is immense. Mia is waiting to hear if she got accepted to Julliard- as she is an incredible classical cellist. Adam, Mia's boyfriend and love of her life, is also a musician but more along the same lines as Mia's dad.

During their drive, however, the family car is t-boned by a semi truck and Mia is the only one left alive- well, comatose. And, she has been transported out of her body so she can watch all that is happening in the hospital. The book spans only a day, but it is interspersed with Mia's detailed flashbacks of her life before this moment. It is the flashbacks that help the reader understand what her family life was like and what she would be giving up if she decides to stay in her body. It's never really clear how much control Mia has over whether she stays (lives) or goes (dies). The aspect of Mia being able to watch her operations, family grieving, and her own body hooked up to monitors and ventilators is a very unique one. I am reminded of The Lovely Bones, but Susie Salmon is narrating from heaven. I know Elsewhere (Gabrielle Zevin) has sort of the same narration, though I've yet to read it (this summer!). This was a fresh and beautiful look at how a teen can appreciate the beauty in life and how one person can choose to fight for their own life. The language read almost like a poem and I have to say that I inhaled this book and still want more. I can't wait to share it with kids this fall!
P.S. Teri Lesesne ( of Professor Nana fame) just reviewed the audio of this book and I can't wait to get my hands on it. She said it was even more of a tear jerker than than the book!

See what else I'm Reading


This is the first of many posts today in order to catch up on my blogging in relation to my reading. If you are interested in what I'm reading right now, here is my link to my Good Reads page. Happy Thursday- Happy July????? (already?)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Audiobooks- Summer Pleasures

I always have an audio book in the car. I am pretty convinced that it has nurtured and developed visualization in all of my children. And, because their older sister was so enamored with them, the twins have succumbed to listening quite easily. We always have a "kid" audio book and an "adult" one in the car that they don't get to hear. Recently, we listened to the kids version of Marley and Me called: Marley, A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan. The ending is no different (everyone asked me if it was in the kid version) but I won't spoil it. There is a line from "No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman that kills me every time I read it. "Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down." (Korman, p.5) Isn't that true?

Regardless, the kids loved hearing about Marley's antics and, unfortunately for me, just renewed their resolve to talk their father and me into getting a family pup. Even though I claim I'm for that, I keep thinking it will be the quintessential..."What was I thinking?..."

My adult audio book in June was Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. While I really wanted to read this book (and bought it as soon as it came out), I never got around to it. What an interesting look at our food supply and how we treat our immigrants in this country! Yikes. This would make anyone immediately convert to vegetarianism. Likened to my reading of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, this book changed the way I think about food (and food workers) in our country. How can people rant about the human rights abuses in China when we take our most vulnerable immigrants and give them the most dangerous jobs in our country? By the way, the Kingsolver book is a GREAT summer read along with Prodigal Summer also by Kingsolver. Great memories from both books.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Ah, vacation. I can stay up until 1 or 2 am and just read in the dead quiet of the house, or in this case, cabin. In the beautiful north in Michigan we are having much better than expected weather and our gorgeous boat ride and sunburns proved it yesterday. Last night, after all was completely quiet, I finished Maggie Stiefvater’s SHIVER. I didn’t mean to stay up until about 2 am, but I was hooked.

Grace was attacked by wolves at 11 years-old (pulled from her tire swing), but one yellow-eyed wolf saved her from the rest of the pack. She bonds with “her” wolf as she calls him and the wolf checks in on her often. One quiet night the wolf approaches her and lets Grace bury her face in his ruff. The wolf turns out to be her werewolf-soulmate, Sam, who is actually a human in the summer and changes to wolf when the weather cools. When Grace meets Sam in human form she knows instantly who he is by his yellow eyes and her immense attraction to him. The majority of the novel is spent examining the lives of Grace and Sam after they meet. Grace’s indifferent parents allow her much time to spend with Sam and he with her at her house. As their relationship grows, the two know they are hopelessly in love with each other, but Sam knows this is his last year “turning” and once he becomes a wolf this time, he won’t be back in human form, making their love a bittersweet struggle to keep Sam warm in the approaching winter.

The beautiful language in this book kept me going. It did take me a good 100 pages to really get hooked, but that doesn’t mean that the beginning was bad, just slower. Immersed in the text are beautiful pieces of poetry from Rilke that explain Sam’s love for Grace, but also the text of some beautiful lyrics that Sam has written. However, the poetry only adds to the beauty in the novel. I found this piece by Rilke (p. 253) extremely moving.
Again and again however we know the language of
love and the little churchyard there, with its sorrowing
names, and the frighteningly silent abyss into which
the others fall: again and again the two of us walk
out together under ancient trees, lie down again and
again in the flowers, face to face with the sky.

Even as an adult female, I got actual shivers up my spine during the love scene between Grace and Sam. I hate to admit it, but I re-read it many times. This was a beautiful and haunting book full of emotion and characters who seemed to make decisions way too adult to match their teenage years. I know this will appeal to the “Jacob” fans of the Twilight set. And, I have to admit that I’m not a fan of wolf stories, but this one really touched my heart. I can’t wait to pass it along to my “former” students! ☺ Happy summer! It’s officially here!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Almost Done!

There is only one more day left of school! Then we head up north (in Michigan in June-yes) where we will probably be greeted by chilly weather and rain. This is what happened last year and we had no warm clothes. Visualize driving through pouring rain looking for a WalMart at 9:00 at night. Ugh. So, we're doing it again! Not my idea-husband thinks it HAS to be warmer this year. Anyway, I have a stack about three feet high of ARCs to read and I can't wait since I seem to have been caught up in the end of the year rush. I'm having a really difficult time deciding what to read first! What I do know is that I'll have 5 days to read- oh yeah, and play with my kids. And, read to them! I'm so looking forward to summer break!

And, because it always comes at a REALLY bad time in my school year (usually the weekend right before we get out), I think I'm going to try to do my own 48 hour book challenge like Mother Reader. Since I couldn't possibly do it this year, I will try my own soon! The kids are all scheduled to be gone in a few weeks, so I will try then!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

What's On Your Nightstand?

I love this feature on 5 Minutes For Books, but I've never participated myself. Here is my first go at what is what is on my nightstand right now.

Bella Tuscany
- by Frances Mayes (I have about 25 pages to go and other books have "interrupted" me! I love living Italy vicariously through her warm and comforting writing)

Boys Should Be Boys- by Meg Meeker MD (I am going to start buying this book for every mom of a boy I know! Recommended by a fellow mom of 3 boys, this one I can really highlight and rings so true! Maybe I'll figure out "the boy" yet.)

Strange Angels- an ARC from Penguin that I really want to get to!

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller (why do "teacher books" always get short shifted and moved to the bottom of the list when a good novel comes along? This is the book I carry with me when I have to wait in the dr's office or the oil change place-I do love it but I 100% agree with her)

The Virgin of Small Plains-by Nancy Pickard (I've become known as 'the book lady' at school and teachers are now coming to me in record numbers to check out books. Last week I traded The 13th Tale for this and I'm loving the mystery of it!)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Katniss Everdeen Rules as the Mockingjay!

I won't repost the cover since it's on the previous entry, but I just closed the cover of the ARC for Catching Fire (Book #2 in The Hunger Games series) Hmm...perhaps I should wait to let the book sink in a bit but I also don't want to have any spoilers in this particular post.

Actually, I took out any plot parts due to the fact that Scholastic would like to have no spoilers so everyone can enjoy the book when it comes out in Sept.

I thought I loved Gregor the Overlander (Collins' last series), but this one has me mesmerized. I have found myself sneaking up to my reading chair in my room to lose myself in Katniss, Peeta, Gale, their decisions and the outcomes. Collins has wowed me once again (this is the 7th time now) with her ability to create not just a riveting plot, but characters who follow me through my days (and nights-they're in my dreams!). Also, I love the fact that Katniss is a feisty, strong willed young woman who is challenging the authority of her whole world. And, yet, she still has the emotion to be torn between two men she loves. What a great way to spend my Memorial Day weekend!

Friday, May 22, 2009


So many reasons to be excited: it's Memorial Day weekend and I get an extra day to sleep in, tomorrow is my 11th wedding anniversary, only 3 more weeks of school, most of the 8th graders will be in Washington DC all of next week, and.....on Wednesday I got an ARC of Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins from Scholastic! I thought my 8th graders were going to attack me when I showed it to them and they were very bummed when I told them I wasn't loaning it out until (1) I finished it and (2) they were back from DC. Are you kidding? I wasn't going to send my coveted ARC to the Nation's capital where it could be forever lost! I cannot wait to spend my days this weekend reading, gardening, going out to dinner, and relaxing! Have a great long weekend--

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Won the Cheese!

Yeah! I won the cheese book (see last post!)from Jama Rattigan's blog. I am excited to try new cheese recipes.

I've decided on this bleary day where I have a sick child and missed some school PD, that I really despise the month of May. Even though it includes Mother's Day and my wedding anniversary, the stress of the end of the school year kind of negates all of it. It seems like all I want to do is sleep! And read. My brain is already focused on summer vacation reading! Off to get the kiddies who aren't sick...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup

Stop by this wonderful books and food blog to read a delightful interview with collage artist Melissa Sweet (who just won a Caldecott Honor medal for A River of Words-about William Carlos Williams). There is a great book giveaway at the end!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Along for the Ride & PIE- NEW Sarah Dessen!

First of all, another huge thank you to Scottie Bowditch at Penguin who is keeping me in the loop by sending me ARCs of good books that come across her desk. And, who wouldn't LOVE a copy of Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen before it comes out in June? Even though the girls were DROOLING over it during Reading Workshop today, I managed to finish it in a matter of hours. Again, Dessen doesn't disappoint which is why the envious green faces from 13 year-old girls today.

Auden West is an incredibly driven and intelligent character who hasn't really had a childhood and is scheduled to start college in the fall. Her mom is a tightly wound English professor who has very specific plans for Auden's future, and a map of how to get there. Auden's dad, Robert, and his new wife Heidi have a brand new baby girl and are struggling to make their new lives work. Auden decides to head out to the beach and live with them for the summer to have some new experiences and to get away from her mother for a while. In her time at the beach house, Auden meets Eli, who teaches her how to live and enjoy life by guiding her on a quest to regain her childhood. Eli is haunted by his own ghost and the two make a great pair while they are out "running errands" all night long-neither one of them are good sleepers. The end is a very humane look at how people can each benefit from different parts of a relationship. While Eli is giving Auden some of the experiences she never got in childhood, Auden brings Eli out of his slump after a car accident the year before. The whole story is underscored by this backdrop of biking and jumping. At first I thought it was odd, but it really makes sense and the jumping and trusting you'll land safely is a great metaphor for the entire novel.

I loved these characters! Each one of them grew on me in a way no others have. I've always really loved the character aspect of novels, but I truly loved these characters and who they became. It did, however, make me want LOTS AND LOTS of coffee as that is something Auden drinks constantly. And, the pie at Clyde's sounded like something I couldn't resist. Now, if I could just get off this silly cabbage soup diet, maybe I could control myself enough to have some. Yum...pie!

Castration Celebration

When I got this lovely box from Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, I immediately emptied it and sorted. I have a student at school who reads like no one would ever believe and she wanted to help me review some of the books. As I was flipping through them (because I had NO idea what the content of any of them were), I came across Castration Celebration by Jake Wizner and I yanked it based purely on its title.

Olivia is at a dramatic arts camp for the summer and has sworn off boys. Sure enough, one (Max) begins to hound her. Her roommates are stereotypically hysterical and the play Olivia begins writing for her final drama performance left me in stitches. It's a really good thing I yanked this one and read it because the extreme lewdness makes it totally inappropriate for middle schoolers (but this adult laughed out loud). However, I will be sending it through school mail to my high school friend so the more mature kids can enjoy it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Read Alouds-

I've mentioned before how much I think read alouds are essential for kids of all ages, and my daughter (9) and I have embarked on another series, and her interest shows me she's entering her Tween years. We listened to The Wedding Planner's Daughter by Colleen Murtagh Paratore and fell in love with Willa (Willafred). Her perfectionist mother planned incredible weddings, but Willa really wanted a father (hers died before she was even born). The details of the houses and scenery on Cape Cod really lured me in since I'm such a sucker for cottages. And, Willa LOVES books! Each volume in the series comes with a "Willa's Picks" at the back of great books she's read throughout the novel. As Willa tries to grow up, get her mother married to Willa's English teacher, negotiate her love of books and the Cape, and snag the crush of her dreams, you are transported to this beautiful world of beaches, books and taffy (Grandma owns a candy store). We read Cupid Chronicles after the first one and we're now onto Willa by Heart (again in page form).

Abby and I have loved each one of these novels, but I have a marketing observation. I never picked these up because they looked too young for my 8th grade girls. But, they're not! I truly think they need more sophisticated covers as the ones the have don't seem to portray the depth that's actually in the novels. In Willa by Heart, Willa is reading novels like Wuthering Heights and Walden! I just think the covers could be reworked to attract a more mature reader.

I'm Back....

I guess I need to think short entries more often rather than 4 long ones every six weeks! Yikes. That was what I will call an "unintentional hiatus". Okay. New resolution? Try to blog more often even if I don't have a book to feature. So, on to the two newest (three newest) on my favorites list.

AUDIO: I just finished listening to The Luxe by Anna Godberson and found it much better than I had thought it would be. I describe it as "Edith Wharton meets Lisi Harrison". I thought the historical aspect of "Old New York Money at the Turn of the Century" was very redeeming. And, despite the "classic characters"- good girl, tramp, seductress, bad boy and poor-boy-who-can't-get-what-he-wants- the story was engaging and well done. Though the novel opens with news of her death, we find out through flashback how Elizabeth is a rich girl turned almost-poor-girl after her father's untimely death. It is imperative that Elizabeth's mother marry her to a rich man, and soon. Henry Schoonmaker is a very rich, very bad boy who drinks and carouses excessively, much to the distress of his father and very young step-mother. They have decided that Henry needs to marry a "nice and proper" girl because Henry's father is going to run for office. Henry, however, has been secretly having trysts with Elizabeth's so-called best friend Penelope. There are other twists and turns such as Elizabeth's true love being the family coachman, Will; and her younger and more impulsive sister, Diana, falling in love with Elizabeth's fiance. Such turmoil, but I know my 8th grade girls will love it. And, after all, they are getting some historical fiction too. I did buy the next one in the series (Rumors) so I can read that one and then put it on my shelf. I have to say that I'm getting full use out of my new Audible membership because I joined their Audible Gold membership and for a small fee, I can download a book each month. This works for me since I'm such an avid audio book girl.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Zombie Blondes- First student post!

I've been meaning to post a student review for a long time now but haven't had anyone offer it up. However, my 8th graders did science fiction book reviews for a final draft and I had to ask to print this one. I love the language this young woman uses and her voice comes through so well in this piece. So, without further ado, here is "Debbie" debuting in her first book review:

Zombie Blondes by Brian James

Zombies? Blondies? Do explain. Don't worry, that's just what I'm here to do. Hannah, who recently moved, is the daughter of an on-the-run-sheriff.
Hannah and her father were forced to run away from police who were angry at Hannah's father for snitching on some of their misdoings. She arrives at an eerie town that seems to have a tad bit too many houses up for sale. People all seem to be of the same pale, bloodless complexion. People disappear almost every couple days yet nobody seems to notice. Or is it that they don't care of that they already know?

Meanwhile, Hannah is repeatedly warned by her friend Lukas at school. He says the people of the town aren't normal, that they kill and transform them into one of their kind. Hannah is determined Lukas is merely trying to scare her off from trying to join the popular girls, a group of blondes with blue eyes snipped to perfection. Hannah chooses to join them: their clique as well as the cheerleading squad. Lord, does she know she's about to be skinned and have the living life drained out of the and bottled up to feed the cyborgs (blondies?).

Right at the precise moment Lukas decide to show up and save Hannah. They run and hide in a secure areas. to their dismay the blondies, as well as the rest of the cyborg town, decide to follow the head cheerleader Maggie like zombies and seek them out. Lukas ends up sacrificing himself to let Hannah get away. Dramatic, huh? I know, sort of like a deranged/vampiristic/robotic/love story.

The reason why Zombie Blondes falls under science fiction is because it's cyborg infused with a hint of a futuristic feeling. though the plot doesn't take place in the future, it's got a kick of cyberpunk and of course, robots.

I hereby present Zombie Blondes with a nearly full rating of 9/10. Why? The book is easy going and never fails to interest you. It's a page turner and a sleep loser. many books start losing flavor after the first hundred or so bites but this one was full of action and never once became dull. If you're around my age or a tad bit older, this book just may be for you, Gender-wise, I'd say its gender neutral. It's got the creepy, action packed scenarios for the fellas as well as a romantic side for the ladies. Age is nothing but a number. You could be quite young with a high level of understanding and tolerance for the creepy, graphic images the author tended to paint in the reader's mind. Or is it just me? It's kid friendly without being too babyish and romantic without being nasty. Balanced? Indeed. Lovable? As intended. Best of all, it's fresh out of the printers (well, 2008). Quick, go get a copy.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What's New in English Teaching

I read about Donalyn Miller's book called The Book Whisperer and I can't wait to read it. Additionally, I read Kelly Gallagher's Readicide online, but some of the people in my department go cross-eyed reading on the computer. So, I can't wait for these to arrive so I can dive in.

I do want to make a public thank you to the people at Simon & Schuster, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux,Houghton Mifflin and Scholastic for their generosity in sending me ARCs to review. I have a pile higher than my bed and I should be very busy for the next several months!

Read Alouds for the New 9 Year-old

Okay, these don't seem like books that we'd read back to back but they both offered a lot of variety. Lots of people know that I'm a huge proponent of reading aloud to kids even as they get older. It offers a wonderful chance to discuss characters and plot as well as spend time together. Abby (daughter) is also learning fluency by hearing me read and following the book with me. If I'm tired, she definitely corrects me if I fumble a word!
Keeper of the Doves by Betsy Byars really appealed to both Abby and me because we love historical fiction. Amen (that's her name) is a fairly wealthy girl with four other sisters, all with names beginning with A. The only thing that perplexes Amie (her nickname) is Mr. Tominski, an old Polish man who once saved her father's life. Mr. Tom keeps doves and has taught them to perform amazing tricks, which Amie watches from the shadows of the woods. This is a fairly slow moving book but it was great to linger over its brief 140 pages. I kept waiting to see if the mother would die, because that is my experience with books like this--but I was pleasantly surprised that she didn't- she finally had the baby brother, but she lived! Amie does deal with some events that help her to grow up throughout.

In contrast, we blew through the most recent 39 Clues book, The Sword Thief by Pete Langeris. While we have been following Dan and Amy religiously since their first foray into the world of clue hunting, this one was special because I lived in Japan for a year. I loved the Yakuza and their hold on Tokyo! And, it was good to see the side of Alistair Oh that I sort of hoped existed. We can't wait to travel to Egypt. And, secretly, I read somewhere that Judy Blundell is writing one of the episodes and I can't wait to read that one too. I was, however, surprised that this volume was so short. Compared to the others, this was about 100 pages shorter. Is that because Japan is such a small country? ha ha- Scholastic really has a winner series here, not just because kids are hooked into the online portion of the adventure, but also because the range of ages that are reading the series is huge!

Bettina Valentino

I just received Bettina Valentino and the Picasso Club from the lovely people at Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. If the wonderfully colorful cover doesn't drag kids into the book, I don't know what will. Bettina is my new favorite quirky character! She has very unusual parents as well. In Bettina's school, her new art teacher, Mr. Popart, is inspiring great art and teaching the 5th graders about amazing artists. Bettina and some friends start The Picasso Club and create more outrageous art outside of school as well. All is fine until the quintessential uptight classmate goes home and tells her parents that the art teacher showed them "dirty pictures" from an art book. The climax erupts with parent meetings and Mr. Popart's "discipline" from in the hoity toity private school. But, Bettina is one of the most charismatic, spunky characters I've seen in Tween fiction in a long time. I loved her artistic style and her parents' down to earth attitude. This is a great Tween book and I can't wait to pass it on to my daughter!


I am a huge David Klass fan and I read You Don't Know Me to my 8th graders every year. They laugh and cry and wait for me to cry on the last couple of pages (I tell them ahead of time that I do this). So, it's surprising that I've not picked up Firestorm until now. Rather, I ran into the audio book at the public library and remembered I hadn't read it yet! So, I've been riveted to my car CD player while I listen. This action-packed and seat-gripping novel was seemingly all over the place. Jack Danielson is a normal boy with a normal life until his parents tell him that they're not really his parents. Within hours, Jack finds out that he's been sent from the future to save the world's ecosystem-namely the oceans. With the help of a telepathic dog named Gisco and a beautiful, karate-chopping shape-changer named Echo, Jack learns to live with his new role as the "Beacon of Hope." My favorite character (besides Jack) was Dargon, with his evil ways, his long hair and bulging muscles. Plus, who wouldn't love a great villain with his own island? The pull of finding out what Firestorm actually was lent an additional draw for me. This is a great middle school book for boys since the action is non stop and incredibly engaging.

I instantly turned a 7th grade boy onto this book and he loves it! We kept comparing where we were until he got sick this weekend and fell behind.

Friday, March 13, 2009


I can't believe March is half over and I haven't been blogging! I hope everyone else has taken part in all of the awesome posts for Share A Story Shape A Future this week. There have been some amazing posts and I've apparently been too busy to respond. Sometimes, life just gets in the way--I have a son who prefers his "birthday suit" over clothes and a daughter who enjoys "throwing" her shoes at random teachers when she's angry. Hmm....slightly feisty. I have no idea where she gets it! :)

So, here's what I've been reading....

I finished Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies by Erin Dionne and loved it. Such a cute book about self image and learning to love yourself, something I think I had a very difficult time doing as a teenager. I loved the name of the contest Celeste's family enters her into- the Ms. Husky Peach contest. Her humiliation and the humor associated with the entire contest were uplifting. I ate this one during a sick day last week. No pun intended. Additionally, I love the fact that Dionne gave good advice about how to lose weight and then Celeste's friends gently encourage her to begin walking for exercise. A very realistic and uplifting book full of hope and discovery. This is a refreshing change after reading several anorexia/starving yourself books.

Other than that, I've been dabbling while battling a huge illness and I haven't completed much lately. Coming soon: Flygirl and The Indigo Notebook

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Happenings and Links

This morning I came across a link to Maira Kahlman's blog where she's done this incredibly impressive piece about Abraham Lincoln. Her illustrations are mesmerizing- but, then, I've been a fan of hers for years. And, I think it's fitting that she did the illustrations for the new Elements of Style book, which has been my friend since I was in high school. I had to get that one- have yet to introduce the students to it, though.

And,...though I have been sick on my week-long vacation, President Obama's (I still Love writing that!) speech to the nation included text very near and dear to my heart. He, too, is on the band wagon for parents to step up and take the third leg of our tripod stool in education (in my school we talk about the three-legged stool analogy: one is the child, one leg is the school, and the other leg is the parent. Unless all of the legs are "working" the stool will not stand up). Here is the text that I am proud our President took to the podium and here is the speech text in its entirety.

"These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent-teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home."

Have a wonderful weekend and spend some time reading to a child. And, don't forget to look for the wonderful week of Reading Aloud to Children coming in March!
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