It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/30

Every week Jen and Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a meme for people to post about the young adult and kid lit reading they are doing.  Go on over and check out their blog!

I did not get to post last Monday so I will be talking about my last two weeks of reading.

Nonfiction books I read:

Even before the Common Core, I knew I had to bring more nonfiction into my classroom.  Now that I have had more time to really dive into these standards, I know it will be crucial to have students doing more nonfiction reading.  I enjoyed both of these books and will recommend them to students.

Fiction I read:

Bird by Angela Johnson is a short and easy read.  Bird has run away from home because she is following her step-dad who just left one day.  She can’t understand why he left.  She is camping out in a barn and sneaking food from the farmhouse when the family is gone.  I love Angela Johnson’s ability to get into the minds of young people and to deal with very difficult subjects in a straightforward way.  I will recommend this one to reluctant readers this fall.

Whirligig by Paul Fleischman is a book about retribution.  When his classmate Brianna rejects him at a party, Brent feels humiliated.  In his intoxicated state, he drives erratically and decides that he doesn’t want to live anymore.  His attempt at suicide actually causes a fatal crash that does not kill him, but kills the young woman in the other car.   He is surprised in the trial when the woman’s mother suggests a way for him to make retribution for the crash.  He sets out on a road trip around the country.  Meanwhile, the reader is given glimpses into the lives of the people who are affected by the gifts he leaves in different spots throughout the country.  This is a book about how a rash decision and stupid mistake can forever change your life.  I was pleasantly surprised by the uplifting feeling that I had while reading this book about a very serious subject.  I was reminded of Touching Spirit Bear while reading and could possibly see doing a unit about justice using these two texts.

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer is a great realistic fiction book.  Hope has lived all her life with her aunt who works in restaurants.  They have moved multiple times and Hope has had to adjust to many places.  In the latest move, Hope and her aunt are moving from Brooklyn to a small town in Wisconsin.  Joan Bauer does an excellent job with characterization in this book.  I loved Hope and all of her friends.  I will definitely recommend this book to students this year.

I was looking for digital books to borrow so that I could just bring my Kindle on my trip and I was pleasantly surprised that Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs was available for check-out.  The cover of this book is so intriguing and I have almost bought it multiple times.  The book is an interesting story which mixes mystery with fantasy and science fiction.  I enjoyed the book but it was different from what I thought it would be.  I will be interested to see where the author takes the story in the next book.

I started reading this book at 9pm on my last night in Denver.  I expected to read a chapter or two and then go to sleep so I would be able to get up bright and early the next morning.  Instead, I stayed up until 2:30am finishing this book.  This does not happen to me often anymore.  I was sucked into this book and just had to know what was going to happen.  I am excited to read the next book to see if it will have the same effect on me.  I appreciated the realistic, not-very-optimistic look at what a post-apocalyptic world would be like.

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban is a great middle grades novel.  It is a cute story and I enjoyed reading it.  I would recommend it to students in grades 4-5.

I moved this book up to the top of my to-read pile because of the multiple times I read recommendations from Colby Sharp.  I really enjoyed Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson.  This story is a riveting story of a young girl who moves to Montana to try to prove up a homestead claim.  Hattie is a courageous and big-hearted character who has wonderful friends and neighbors.  This historical fiction novel is an excellent glimpse at what live in the West was like in 1918.  I will definitely recommend this book to students this year.

I enjoy John Grisham thrillers and have been curious about this book since it came out.  I enjoyed reading this book and I think that Grisham did a pretty good job getting in the mind of this 8th grader.  The premise is a little unrealistic, but Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer was an entertaining read and I will recommend it to my students.

The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L Going is a book about being brave and standing up to bullies.  It is set in the time of integration and Gabriel is best friends with the one African American girl in their class, Frita.  This causes him to be the victim of bullying by boys who have racist parents, but he has had a break from the bullies this year because they moved on to fifth grade in the upper school.  Gabriel decides that he does not want to get moved up to fifth grade if that means that these boys will be in the same school with him again.  Frita works to convince Gabriel that it will be okay and that he needs to move up to fifth grade.  Over the summer they work to overcome their fears…some of their ideas work out and some don’t.  This is a good look at some of the hate that existed during this trying time in history.  It is a short read and I would recommend it to students grade 5 and up.

I finished listening to Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake.  I had not heard of this book or this author before.  I was glad to get this free download and enjoyed listening to this story.  I will definitely look for more books by this author in the future.  The mystery was fun and I know kids will enjoy the creepy ghost story.

Professional Books Finished This Week:

Chris Tovani has many great ideas in her books.  I had to read Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? because in her newest book about assessment she references some ideas from this one.  I love the way she keeps track of group discussions and helps students learn how to have effective discussions.  
Books I am currently reading:
A Step From Heaven by An Na—I officially have stopped the Newbery challenge and decided to work on Printz books instead.  I will read all the books I have that are on that list and then look for the rest.  
Real Revision by Kate Messner—This will be an excellent resource for the coming school year.  
Clock Watchers by Stephanie Quate and John McDermott—I was lucky enough to be in a session with these two dynamic authors.  Their ideas are very much aligned with what I believe in my classroom and I am enjoying reading about some new ideas to incorporate.  

Books on the horizon:  Whatever strikes my fancy from my numerous to-read choices.

Bookaday update—In 46 days so far of summer break I have read 65 books:  19 picture books and graphic novels, 7 professional books, and 39 novels or nonfiction chapter books.

It’s Monday! What are you reading? 7/16

Jen and Kellee over at Teach Mentor Texts host a weekly meme for people to share what they are reading each week in the world of YA and kid lit.  Head over to their blog for links to many other bloggers who are sharing their reading with us.

Books I read this week:

Please see my posts from this week to hear more about the following books.

La Linea by Ann Jaramillo tells the story of Miguel, a young boy who starts out to make the journey to join his parents in the United States.  It recounts the very real dangers that people face to cross the border and is a book that many of my hispanic students will relate to.

Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes really tells the story of how perception can be very wrong and people need to act with empathy and not in a selfish way.  I like the way Henkes really got in the head of the two young boys and the reader got the whole story and knew more than either boy did the whole time.  This would be a good book to use to talk about perspective and point of view.

Everlost by Neal Shusterman is an imaginative story about where you might end up after dying.  I avoided this book for a while because I was afraid it would be too creepy or sad.  It was neither, I really enjoyed the entertaining story and was impressed by the imagination that created this world.  There are some great themes in here about identity and fear of change also.

Entwined by Heather Dixon is a great story.  This one kept me up late.  I had never heard of the fairy tale about the twelve dancing princesses until I read the Goodreads reviews of this book.  I enjoyed this story and thought the author did a great job of balancing creepy elements with a good story.

This is a book that I have not yet written about on the blog.  Please click on the image to go to the Goodreads page if you want more info.  I read this in one sitting.  It was different from the books I usually read and I really enjoyed the new perspective.  I was crying through a lot of the book because I was so touched by the influence these teenagers had on one another.

Newbery Challenge and Graphic Novels:

UGH!  I am really rather annoyed that these first Newbery books are so hard to read.  I may be rethinking the challenge because it seems like such a waste of time to read them.

I continued to read graphic novels this week in a quest to find some that would be appropriate for my class library.  I really enjoyed all 4 of these books, especially To Dance.  This memoir is so accessible and I can see many students enjoying this short introduction into a dancer’s life.

Professional Books:

How to Write your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher is not really a professional book, but I read it for ideas for my writing classroom so I am putting it here.  I need to look into getting all of his books about writing for my class library.

So What Do They Really Know? by Chris Tovani offers some good examples of formative assessment in the reading classroom.  I enjoyed the book and will be using some of the suggestions in my reading block next year.

Books I am reading:

Smoky the Cowhorse is not as bad as the others so far, Do I Have to Teach Reading? by Chris Tovani,
I am also listening to Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Books on the horizon:

I spent too much money with the discount code at Stenhouse so I have some professional books to get through.  The one I am most excited about reading is Real Revision.  Other than that I will just pull from the to read shelf.

Happy Reading!

My Life as a Book Nerd–A personal reflection


     I am not sure exactly when my love of reading started except to say that I was surrounded by books and literacy.  It was part of what we did in my household.  Some of my first memories are the weekly trips to the public library to pick out our picture books for the week.  I remember being upset because we had to narrow down our choices to fit within the strict 10 book limit.  From before I can remember, my mother had made it a point to read with us every night.  
     Then I started school at Crestwood Elementary School.  When I entered first grade, I had Mr. Szudy as my teacher.  I remember the magical read-aloud time and being introduced to Fudge and his hilarious adventures.  There was a loft in this classroom and it was so exciting when it was my turn to climb up into the loft and lose myself in a book.  At the time, I did not realize how lucky I was to be going to that school.  All over the country there were reading wars happening and I had lucked upon a whole language school that was going to let me feed my reading habit and devour books.  Over the years in school I was introduced to amazing literature and even got a chance to give feedback for the very first American Girl stories (the mother of a fellow third-grade classmate worked at the publishing company).  My school experiences certainly helped me to learn a love of reading.  
     Over the years, my reading was encouraged at home also.  In my house, reading was an essential part of life. My mother sped-read through all kinds of books, but mostly bestselling novels. My father always had a thick Stephen King thriller that he was making his way through. He stayed up way too late every night reading his books, even when he was sick and should have been sleeping more. For every holiday my most coveted presents were the new books that were sure to be in the pile. You loved the Easter candy in your basket? Well, the jokes on you because I got Anne of Green Gables in my basket, not those gross Peeps. There were books all over our house and I coveted and cared for my books as if they had feelings. Time for reading was treasured also. I loved bedtime because I got to lose myself in the world of my book for a few minutes before lights out. Then, once the lights were out and my mother was safely back downstairs, I would hang out of my bed just enough to catch the hallway light so I could sneak read. My mom knew enough to not let me have a flashlight anywhere near my bed, but she didn’t know about this (or so I thought). I spent many nights staying up way too late to finish a book because I just had to know what happened to that character.
     My relationship with my grandparents had book love all over it also.  My grandpa was the type of person who read everything in sight.  You had to be careful what you left out on the table because he was not past picking up that piece of mail and reading through it.  He didn’t mean to be prying, he just couldn’t help it…if anyone was a reading addict it was him.  Although I didn’t share the same taste in reading with him, my grandpa influenced my reading habits greatly.  He had shelves full of thick tomes about the Civil War and piles of old issues of The NewYorker and Vanity Fair lying around the house.  When I was there, he would read the newspaper every morning and always had a book around for those times when there was a lull in conversation.  My grandmother was just as much a reader as he was, but she influenced my reading habits in a much more direct way.  Grandma read with me and to me every time I was over at their house (which was most Friday nights–I used to call them up and invite myself over).  We had old favorites that we went back to again and again and she is the one who started me on my lifelong love of mysteries.  Grandma had read every Agatha Christie book there was and I made it a personal challenge to do the same.  I had great fun reading the books–I started when I was 10 and had read them all by the time I left high school.  Some of my fondest memories and most treasured possessions are books that I shared with Grandma.  
     I remember going to library used book sales and used book stores with my grandparents.  I would spend hours poring over the selection of books that were available as my grandparents went to their respective sections to look for treasures of their own.  When I was visiting them in Florida, we headed to the local used bookstore and bought a pile of Nancy Drew and Baby-Sitters Club books for me to read.  On a beach vacation that was what you did.  You got the trail mix ready, got in your swimsuit, and then proceeded to lie on the towel and read in the sun.  Yes, you might get up and swim once in a while, but then it was right back to reading for you.  
     Anne of Green Gables is one of my favorite books because of the special place it held in my relationship with my grandmother.  We spent many nights reading together from the books in the series and learning about Anne Shirley’s adventures.  When PBS made the movies, my grandmother and I spent hours watching the telethons and experiencing the wacky adventures of Anne with an e.  We also delighted in The Adventures of Treehorn.  This was not a well-known book and I derived secret delight from the fact that we had a private treasure to share.  The book was illustrated by Edward Gorey so anytime I see his famous illustrations it makes me smile inside.  
    My love for reading did not stop in childhood.  In college, I decided to study engineering because I had always been good at math and science.  I knew I would have limited time and I did not want to give up reading, so I took literature classes as electives.  I loved it that my homework for those classes was to read good books.  I made my way through so many amazing classes with introductions to many great authors.  In fact, I took so many English classes that when I decided not to continue in Electrical Engineering my junior year of school, there were only three more English classes I needed to take to be finished with the major.  
     Now, as a teacher, I work hard to instill the same sense of wonder and enjoyment of reading in my students.  I read voraciously and make sure my students know this about me.  I read books that are written for middle grade students and young adults so that I can be sure to know what books to recommend to my students.  I eat, sleep, and dream reading.  There is never a night that I don’t read at least a few pages before nodding off to sleep.  I share books with my mom and sister.  I even converted my husband from a person who never read to someone who I can share books with.  He even recommends books to me now.  My students know that when they want to talk books, I am the one to come to and I have taken pride in watching some students become the voracious readers that I hoped they would become.  The biggest compliment I have ever received as a teacher was when a parent gave me the credit for her daughter’s love of reading and thanked me profusely for it.  
   Over the years I have found friends in books.  I spent many a stormy night with Meg and Charles Wallace.  I spent summer afternoons sluething with Nancy and Trixie.  I fell off the rooftop and into the lake with Anne.  I created a business with Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey, Kristy and Dawn.  I traveled the Orient Express with Poirot.  I cried until my eyes could cry no more with Scarlett’s heartbreak.  There have been many more friends and experiences along the way and I know there will be many more.  I continue to be astounded by the amazing talents of authors and will willingly transport myself to the many other worlds there are out there for as long as writers create those worlds.  
   To the nerdy book club bloggers and other teachers out there writing about their love of reading:  Thank you for giving inspiration to many to continue to raise readers.  I have been so inspired and re-energized by the amazing network of readers, writers, and teachers out there.  

Bird Lake Moon, Everlost, and Entwined

In Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes, Mitch is living with his grandparents on Bird Lake because his world has been devastated by his parents’ separation.  He wants to take over the abandoned house next door and begins to fantasize about how he and his mother will be able to live there.  Then when Spencer and his family show up, he is angry that his house has been taken over by “intruders” and plans to scare them away.  Little does he know that the family is coming back to Bird Lake for the first time since the oldest child in their family drowned 8 years ago.  Throughout the novel the reader gets a glimpse at two young boys living through big times in their lives.  I loved the lesson that Mitch learned about understanding others’ perspectives before acting.  This book is one I would recommend to a reader who does not want to difficult of a book to read and enjoys realistic fiction.

I had Everlost by Neal Shusterman sitting on my shelf for quite a while.  I was intrigued by the premise but worried that I would be creeped out by the book or that it would make me sad.  In this book Nick and Allie are in a car crash and both are headed down the tunnel towards the light when they bump into one another and fall out of the tunnel.  They wake up nine months later in a beautiful forest.  A kid is there and explains to them that they are in a kind of in-between realm.  They are no longer alive, but they did not get where they were going so they are now doomed to exist in this realm.  Both Nick and Allie are desperate to get home and check on the rest of their family to see if they survived the crash.  They set out on an adventure to move across a world where the only solid ground is any spot there is a dead spot…the place a person died.  On their way, they hear about a terrible monster who preys on kids like them.  This book is an incredibly imaginative story.  The author manages to write about a topic that could be quite uncomfortable in such a way that the reader is taken in by the story and racing to find out what will happen next.  The ending is an unexpected twist and I was glad to be left with such a sense of hope and a desire to read the next book in the series.  I would recommend this book to young adults.  Because it deals with the subject of where people go after death, I think the concepts are a little too mature for middle grade readers.  I enjoyed this story and look forward to reading the next creative story from this author.  

I picked out the book Entwined by Heather Dixon at a Scholastic book fair.  I had asked my students to help me pick out books that seemed like they would be good for the class library and some of my girls picked up this one.  I loved this story!  I had no idea that it was a retelling of a fairy tale until I read some of the Goodreads reviews of this book.  When Azalea’s mother dies, it is up to her to take care of her eleven little sisters and to negotiate the long mourning period that they are forced to endure.  Their father, the king, has distanced himself from them and all of the girls are certain that he never really loved them, but did the kind things he did because their mother had required it of him.  Azalea is left to be the nurturer of the girls and at the same time is anxious about the selection of a husband for her which will be coming up after mourning is done.  The girls find a magic passage and a small escape from their sadness, but Azalea quickly finds out that there is a price to pay for their time there.  I was enchanted by this book.  I am a sucker for a good fairy tale/princess story and this one did not disappoint me.  I devoured the long book—over 450 pages–in one day (staying up WAAAY too late to finish).  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy (think Coraline meets The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, meets Cinderella).

Writing Project–Where I’m From

    In my workshop with the Milwaukee Writing Project, one of the presenters brought this powerful lesson for us to experience.  She used the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon as a mentor text and had us brainstorm and write our own poems using that format.  I had tried this lesson before in my classroom, but did not do the work of experiencing it as a writer.  Needless to say it was not as successful as I had hoped it would be because I did not know what the hurdles would be for my students.   What a powerful experience writing this poem was.  I think that I would end up with a different poem every time I sat down to write.  So many small moments and experiences came back to me once I started writing.  I will definitely do this activity in my classroom this Fall and I know it will be much more successful because I now know how I need to support my students to make this writing accessible to them.

I had a chance for a quick first draft and now have gone back to revise it.  Here is the second draft of my poem (I would welcome any feedback):

I am from campfires,
from s’mores and lake swimming. 
I am from singing and baring
our souls in the moonlight.

I am from pop-up campers and motorhomes
From walking the dog through camp.
I am from wild raspberry sundaes
and Shish-ka-bobs on the grill.

I am from road trips
and stops along the way to Florida.
I am from visits to old friends
and arriving at Sea-Oats.

I am from drives with 
the sunroof open, blasting
Peter, Paul, and Mary.
I am from worry and pain.
Clutching chests and pacemakers

I am from don’t-stress-your-dad-out 
and don’t-worry-I’m-fine.
From reading in the dark with a flashlight
or hanging from my bed to get 
light from the hall.

I am from used book sales
and Nancy Drew
I am from Agatha Christie 
and The Adventures of Treehorn.

I am from cocktail hour with my Grandparents.
From liver sausage and cherries doled out 
from Brandy Manhattans. 
From 4th of July picnics at their house 
and weeks spent in Florida at their condo.
From Turkey loaf on Thanksgiving
with ice cream roll for dessert.

I am from marathon Monopoly 
that lasted all weekend.
I am from muted baseball games
and eating ice cream past my bedtime.

I am from The Music Man and Grease
from performances big and small.
I am from Little Mermaid and Dirty Dancing.
From belting out the songs with my sister.

I am from Sundays at church 
and midnight services on Christmas.
From youth group and choir
and funeral services too young.
I am from panic and loss 
From relationships strengthened
by tragedy. 

These defining moments wrap 
around me and give 
me the person 
who I am today.

I am from love 
I am from pain
I am from family. 

Olive’s Ocean and La Linea

Even though this summer has been busy with Professional Development and a writing class, I have been enjoying reading and writing like crazy.  I wanted to give an update on my book-a-day challenge here.  I am trying to read a total of 76 books in the 76 days of summer vacation that I have.  As of right now I have read 40 books in 24 days.  I am super excited about this and look forward to surpassing my goal for the summer.  Let’s see if I can keep it up!

     In La Linea by Ann Jaramillo, Miguel finally gets the message that it is time for him to journey north to join his parents and the twin sisters he hasn’t met yet.  He gets everything together and goes to Don Clemente to pay and get the instructions for his trip.  He has a going away party, says good-bye to his grandma and his sister and takes off on the journey.  From day one this trip north is full of dangers and surprises, including a stowaway sister that Miguel now has to take care of.  This book is full of adventure and describes some of the very real danger that people face to try to come into the United States.  Miguel and his sister have been suffering as many children in Mexico do, waiting for the day when their parents will have the money to send for them.  I have seen families that are separated like this, waiting to someday be able to bring the rest of the family here.  I would highly recommend this book to teens, especially to Mexican-American students.  I think that a lot of them will find a story that they can connect to.  For teachers, I think this would be an excellent read-aloud that would highlight the issue of immigration policy.

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes tells the story of a young girl Martha who is just starting to figure out her identity.  The book opens with a scene in which a woman Martha has never met introduces herself as Olive’s mother and leaves a journal page with Martha.  Olive was a girl in Martha’s school who had died recently.  Martha is confused by this at first because she and Olive had not been friends.  When she reads the journal page she discovers that Olive might have wanted to become her friend.  This starts Martha thinking about how people treat each other.  Then, when Martha’s family takes their annual trip to her grandma’s house, she starts to notice things around her.  Her grandmother and she start to exchange information about themselves each day and Martha grows throughout the summer.  I really liked this story.  There is some beginning teenage love in the book, but it is really a story about the relationships forged in a family and the way that a tween can negotiate the difficult years of friendships and broken hearts.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys realistic fiction.

One Crazy Summer and Empty

One Crazy Summer is a book that adds to the discussion about the Civil Rights Movement. The main character Delphine is struggling to take care of her two younger sisters during a trip to see their mother. I really enjoyed this book.  The author did a great job of capturing the voice of this young girl and giving an interesting insight into the activities of the Black Panthers in California.  The three sisters act like sisters and bicker and fight but they are loving sisters and they stick together.  I would highly recommend this quick read to everyone.  I learned a little bit about the Black Panthers and am curious to find out more after reading this book.     
Goodreads Summary:  In the summer of 1968, after travelling from Brooklyn to Oakland, California, to spend a month with the mother they barely know, eleven-year-old Delphine and her two younger sisters arrive to a cold welcome as they discover that their mother, a dedicated poet and printer, is resentful of the intrusion of their visit and wants them to attend a nearby Black Panther summer camp

     This book describes a world in which the oil wells of the world have run dry.  People are unable to sustain the lifestyles that they had before because many products are not available anymore.  Think about all the products that rely on oil–plastic being one of them.  This is a good cautionary tale about the effects of relying on a non-renewable resource and not exploring alternative greener possibilities for power.  I did not love the style of the writing in this book as an adult, but I know that my students will love it.  The beginning of the book read like some of the series that I read as a teenager.  There are some complicated teenage relationships in the book which makes it more interesting for that audience.  I would recommend this book to many students because it really makes you think about our world and what might happen if we’re not careful.  

It’s Monday! What are you reading? 7/9

Jen and Kellee at host a weekly meme entitled “It’s Monday! What are you Reading? From Picture Books to YA”  This is a chance for people to share the books that they have been reading throughout the week, especially focused on kid lit and YA lit.

Books Finished this week:

I read a number of professional books this week.  I am trying to figure out how to make my reading and writing blocks more intentional and organized.  There are a number of district mandates that I need to follow.

Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles is a practical guide and I will definitely be pulling this one out multiple times this year.  This book gave me a few ideas about how to tweak my literature study and a great sample schedule and calendar.

  The Book Whisperer is an excellent resource to have for any teacher of reading.  I have been very excited to find the Nerdy Book Club and all of the support on Twitter.  I can’t believe that it took me so long to pick up this book and read it.  I misunderstood at first about the target audience of the book.  I wholeheartedly agree with Donalyn Miller that this type of reading classroom is the way to produce life-long readers.  It was a great read for me this summer because it helped to validate what I already knew.  My classroom was this kind of reading space when I had younger students and the flexibility to design my curriculum. Now, with middle school students and a more structured set of mandates from the district, my reading classroom has suffered.  This book helped me to rethink some of the structure in the requirements for my students and I am glad that I decided to read it.  I will be recommending it to many teachers in the Fall when I get back to school.

Power Tools for Adolescent Literacy was another book I read.  This was a quick read because it is filled with practical lesson plans.  Many of the suggested strategies are things that I already do, but there were some gems in here.  I will definitely be pulling this book off the shelf while planning this year.

Inside the Writer’s-Reader’s Notebook by Linda Rief gives another set of suggestions about how to set up a notebook.  It was interesting to see how this middle school teacher sets up her expectations to work with the multiple classes that she works with.

A Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher is not exactly a professional resource but I read it that way.  I am trying to figure out how best to guide my students in setting up writer’s notebooks and how to set up my own.  This book is full of ideas and I enjoyed reading it.

The rest of the books I finished this week were young adult or children’s books.

The Dark Frigate  was part of the Newbery Challenge.  I didn’t hate the book but it took a long time to hook me.  I would not recommend it to any students unless they were big fans of Treasure Island or similar books.

Houdini: The Handcuff King by James Sturm is a graphic novel about Houdini.  It was fun to read the graphic novel and the real biographical information mixed with a sort of glossary at the end that explained some of the historical points in the story.

Pearl by Jo Knowles was another book that I am sure my middle school students will love.

Dragons in the Waters by Madeleine L’Engle:  I found this book in my library while browsing.  I was excited about the fancy new cover that makes the book seem much more intriguing.  I LOVED all of L’Engle’s books when I was younger and loved this one on the second read.  I need to seek out all of her books with these new covers and stock my class library with her awesomeness…not just the class set of A Wrinkle in Time.

The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic is a book I read about in a post from Teachers Write.  This picture book is an excellent example of how profound picture books can really be.  The subject of how a child perceives his world after his mom dies is heartbreaking but this would be an excellent mentor text for voice because you can really feel that this is a young person talking.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia is a wonderful book and would be a great book to recommend for a Civil Rights unit.  I can see why it was nominated for so many awards.

Tales From Silver Lands…UGH!  This was a hard book to get through.  I usually like traditional tales but these were dry and oh-so-boring.

Empty by Suzanne Weyn is a book I will recommend to students.  I really wasn’t all that thrilled by the writing in the book.  The first 50 pages or so read a lot like a Sweet Valley High book or something similar.  The subject matter is interesting and it is good food for thought.  I can see middle school students being intrigued by this book and going to find out more about oil supplies and renewable energy.

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes is a great story.  I expected it to be more sad than it was and that was a pleasant surprise.  I enjoyed reading about Martha and her family trip complete with a tween romance gone wrong.  I thought the relationship she had with her grandmother was quite touching.

Books I am Currently Reading:

So What do They Really Know? by Chris Tovani
Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman
La Linea by Ann Jaramillo

What’s on the horizon in reading:
I have an entire shelf of books to read…I have forbidden myself to request any more books at the library based on recommendations that I see on Twitter until I read more of my shelf.  I don’t know which books but I will be getting them from that shelf.


Some Excuses and a Quickwrite

     So, that commitment to making the time for writing is proving to be more challenging for me than I thought it would be.  I definitely have writing more on my mind lately and I know I have done a much better job of blogging about my reading, but I have not set aside the time at home like I said I would during week one.  I know that it has a lot to do with the commitments that I have had since school finished.  I have had a meeting or training to go to every single day since school ended except for this week (I know that I am just making excuses here, but I am only human).  Some of that training has made me more of a writer as I am spending my mornings in the Milwaukee Writing Project involved with writing.  It helped last week to have “homework” to write about the writing circle topics.  I have to write before Monday, but this week was a week off because of the holiday and I have used my time to feed my reading habit.  I am rather obsessed with reading and the challenges like #bookaday and #nerdbery might have made me feel a little competitive and given me an excuse to be reading non-stop (I am accomplishing a goal here…not procrastinating or being lazy or avoiding housework).

      I was really inspired by Jen’s blog last Sunday and read Ralph Fletcher’s book A Writing Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You this week.  I need to figure out what will work for me and my students and get my notebook going.  Just having the thoughts about what I might put there has brought ideas to my mind.  I start every school year with a lesson I got from Nancie Atwell’s books, sharing my writing territories.  I cannot wait to share that list this year and actually to have written some stories and quick writes about those territory ideas.  I know this will be one of the sections in the notebook along with a section for quotes.  I know that part of the appeal of Tumblr for some of my creative students is the ability to capture great ideas there…I want them to have that in their notebooks too.  I also have been musing about how to use my class blogs better.  I like the way a lot of bloggers have certain memes that they do on certain days.  I would love to get my students to think about their blogs this way…Mondays we talk about what they are reading, Tuesdays it’s time for a top ten list, Wednesdays is about food, etc.  I just really need to think about requirements and workshop and how to set everything up.  Okay, that was a complete teacher brain moment.  I was talking about my own writing here.  It never fails to astound me how my brain never stops thinking about what might work best for my students.  

     Now that I have spent more time than necessary talking about why I haven’t written this week, I decided that I would give Monday’s quick write a shot.  I have actually been mulling over this idea for the past few days after having read it on Monday.  I absolutely love the idea for story stew and can definitely see using it on multiple occasions this year in writing. 

     The woman sat there stroking the well-worn fedora as if it were a cat on her lap.  She rocked a little bit in her seat every time her hand moved lovingly down the rim of the hat.  She couldn’t believe she was here.  Just this morning she and Edwin had been crunching on cereal in companionable silence at the dining room table.  She with her new P.D. James thriller, and he with his New Yorker.  This morning had been one of those pleasant oasis mornings that she looked forward to each and every night and had learned to depend on throughout their 50 years of marriage.  How could she be here now?  He was just there, in that chair, engrossed in a story one minute and then babbling nonsense to her the next.  She had known something was wrong when his magazine slipped out of his hands.  There was no way he would carelessly abandon his reading unless it was involuntary.  She had hesitated, not wanting to recognize the signs.  Then, without really knowing how she got there, her hand was dialing and she was soon connected to the dispatcher.  
“9-1-1, What’s your emergency?” The voice of the operator was all business.  

She hesitated again for a fraction of a second then, “My husband, I think he is having a stroke.”
“Is he conscious?”
“Is he breathing?”
“Okay, Ma’am? We are sending out the responders.  They will be there momentarily.”  It was all so calm and efficient.  How could they be so calm?  When the fire truck got there, the two firefighters started to administer first aid and to try to stabilize Edwin until the paramedics arrived.  Then it was a whirlwind with sirens waking up the whole neighborhood.  She had come in the ambulance with them and had to sit to the side trying to stay out of the way as they administered to Edwin.  She had grabbed the hat as she left the house.  Edwin would want his hat for when they came home.  He was never outside without it.  

     “GRAN!” Ellie screeched as she barreled into the waiting room.  The five-year-old was filled with an exuberance that she envied sometimes.  The old woman cringed slightly and then grinned at Ellie, not wanting the young girl to see her inner turmoil.  
   “Ellie, we walk inside and use our inside voice,” her mother admonished.  Katherine looked haggard with dark circles under her eyes.  She let out a big yawn and approached the older woman.  “Geez, Mom.  I am sorry you had to go through that alone.  Any news?”
“Nothing yet.  The doctors seemed to think that they could stabilize him, but we won’t know about the damage until he wakes up.” She looked down at his fedora and started stroking it again as a tear made a path down her face. There were so many years between them, and so many years to look forward to.  She clung to that piece of their shared history and prayed that it would be a part of their continued future.  She looked at their beautiful daughter and recognized the fright in those pale blue eyes.  Katherine sat down next to her mother and placed her hand over the old woman’s hand, trying to still the movements.   
     While the two women spoke, Ellie had found a piece of paper and her crayons in her mother’s purse.  She sat contentedly on the floor and used the coffee table in the waiting room as her own personal writing desk.  Her tongue stuck out the corner of her mouth as she squinted in concentration.  
“Look, Mama” Ellie ran over to Katherine with a grin on her face.  She handed the paper to her mother who gasped and shoved it toward the older woman.  The old woman looked at Katherine and saw the tears threatening to spill over in her eyes.  She took the paper and read what little Ellie had written there.  On the paper was a drawing of a man and a woman.  The man had on a nice hat and the couple were holding hands.  In her kindergarten handwriting Ellie had written the words, “Don’t be sick and sad, Gran and Gramps.”  If only it were that simple.  

As happens frequently with my quickwrites, this one got away from me and took on a mind of its own.  I am collecting all these little seed ideas from these exercises.  One of them will germinate soon, I’m sure.  

Super Books (Again)

     This summer there is no end to the fabulous books that I have been reading.  Every Monday I make my way through the other book blogs from teachers and librarians out there and end up with at least 2 or 3 new books on my to read list.  The best part about this is that every book I have picked up this summer has been well worth my time.  Last week was a great reading week with enjoyable book selections.  

I was very excited to go pick up the copy of Bitterblue that finally came in for me at the library.  I had been waiting not so patiently for a few weeks.  I absolutely loved both Graceling and Fire and was really anxious to read the newest book by Kristen Cashore.  This book definitely lived up to my expectations.  Here’s the Goodreads blurb about the book (they said it far better than I can):
Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle—disguised and alone—to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

What I loved about this book is that I was re-introduced to the characters that I loved in the first book.  I also love the fact that Bitterblue is another strong female character that learns a lot about life and love throughout this book.  Although this book was a bit thicker than Graceling and Fire were, I devoured it in as short a time as with the others.  At the end of this book I had that bittersweet feeling when you are glad to know how the story ends but sad to see the characters go.  I hope to see a lot more from this author in the future!

I purchased The Glass Maker’s Daughter by V. Briceland through the Kindle store with one of their deals.  I was intrigued by the cover and the title and thought that this book would be  historical fiction.  I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading and it became obvious that this book was a fantasy novel.  Risa is a daughter of one of the seven chosen families in the land.  As such, she expects to be sent to the boarding school to be taught how to use the magic of the land to form the enchanted glass that the people expect from her family.  Fate is not on her side and she unexpectedly gets left behind.  Then one morning her parents are summoned to the castle and do not return.  She is suspicious of the Prince and unsure of how to proceed.  Risa must rise to the occasion and work to save her home and her land.  This book was one that caught my attention from the beginning and kept me reading.  I loved it that there was yet another strong female lead character in this book.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy (and a little romance) and will certainly look for the other books in the series to read.  

Jumping off Swings is another excellent book by Jo Knowles.  What I love about all of her books is that I can definitely see recommending them over and over to all students.  The length is quite manageable and I can see many students really connecting with these characters.  In this book, Ellie has gone too far searching for love and is now pregnant.  Josh buckled under the pressure from some of his “friends” to just do it already.  Caleb and Corinne are the friends who support Ellie and Josh through it all.  The book tells the story by alternating perspectives of all four of these teenagers.  I stayed up way too late yet again with this book…this author seems to have that effect on me.  I will be recommending this one to all of my students.  I would highly recommend it to any teenagers who enjoy realistic fiction.  

When I was walking through Target the other day, this book jumped into my basket.  I had heard great things about Smile by Raina Telgemeier and am looking to expand the graphic novel section of my class library so I thought, why not?  I am so glad I picked it up.  This is a funny and touching story that I am sure all middle schoolers will be able to relate to.  I loved the fact that, since it was a memoir, it was set in the years that I was in middle school.  The late 80’s and early 90’s references and clothing drawn here were very entertaining for me and I am sure would be great fun for modern day middle schoolers.  Who didn’t go through that self-conscious and awkward stage in middle school?  This character has real challenges to feeling good about herself and her friends do not make it much better.  This is an excellent graphic novel and I can’t wait for her next one!