Sylvia Plath fan? Then read these

I don’t think I was introduced to Sylvia Plath until I took one of my teaching secondary English courses. We read her poem “Mushrooms” without knowing the title and had to try and figure out the title, the author, the topic, etc. without knowing anything besides the words on the page. It was a fun activity and one I’ve done with my own students every time I teach poetry.

I became more interested in her a couple summers ago after reading a Michael L. Printz honor book about her life. And I have yet to read The Bell Jar, but I plan on listening to the audio. Anyway, whenever I find a new YA title that connects with The Bell Jar or with Plath in some way I’m instantly drawn to it. I realized today that I’ve read a few books like this which is why I’m listing them here. Maybe this post will help you add to a poetry unit or Plath-related lesson. Or maybe you’ll simply want to read some books that I highly recommend :)

The book that started it all–

Your Own, Sylvia: A Verse Portrait of Sylvia Plath by Stephanie Hemphill (Goodreads): I reviewed this Printz honor book a couple years ago and you can read the review here. Like I said in the review, I already knew about how her life ended, but this book still made me cry. I’ve been interested in her ever since.

Your Own, Sylvia

The book that made me want to read The Bell Jar

And Then Things Fell Apart by Arlaina Tibensky (Goodreads): I reviewed this title the same year I reviewed Your Own, Sylvia. Tibensky’s debut didn’t get enough coverage considering what a great book it is. I think I was actually supposed to read The Bell Jar for a quick (and absolutely horrible) three week undergrad history course that I took after the course where we read “Mushrooms”, but I didn’t read it. Shhh…Don’t tell anyone ;) It’s amazing what a bad class and a bad teacher can do to a book and a student, but that’s for another post. Anyway, Keek’s story is one that I raced through and “sofa king” loved (read the book and you’ll get that :)).

And Then Things Fall Apart

The book that surprised me–

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (Goodreads): I really didn’t know much about Belzhar before I read it besides the connection to The Bell Jar. I jumped at the opportunity to listen to the audio when Penguin offered and am so happy I did. I liked Wolitzer’s YA debut because she added a twist of magical realism (although you may read it as realistic). I think it will lure some of my fantasy fans in class and hopefully help them find enjoyment in realistic fiction. Jam is an authentic character who makes mistakes and grows from her mistakes. Her life at The Wooden Barn and her Special Topics in English class have really made me curious about Wolitzer’s connection to The Bell Jar. And P.S. the audio is great. A friend told me that Wolitzer chose the narrator; she made a fantastic choice!

Belzhar

Review: The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings

The Murder ComplexTitle: The Murder Complex

Author: Lindsay Cummings

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Release Date: June 10th, 2014

Interest: Dystopian / Sci-fi / Debut author

Source: Purchased

Summary (From Goodreads):

An action-packed, blood-soaked, futuristic debut thriller set in a world where the murder rate is higher than the birthrate. For fans of Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, La Femme Nikita, and the movie Hanna.

Meadow Woodson, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been trained by her father to fight, to kill, and to survive in any situation, lives with her family on a houseboat in Florida. The state is controlled by The Murder Complex, an organization that tracks the population with precision.

The plot starts to thicken when Meadow meets Zephyr James, who is—although he doesn’t know it—one of the MC’s programmed assassins. Is their meeting a coincidence? Destiny? Or part of a terrifying strategy? And will Zephyr keep Meadow from discovering the haunting truth about her family?

It’s been a while since I’ve read a dystopian/sci-fi novel, so when I was at Barnes & Noble I decided to buy The Murder Complex. I’m happy with my purchase because I know it will be a hit with my students, especially those who like The Hunger Games, Legend, Blood Red Road, Divergent, and the like.

Before I get into how Lindsay Cumming’s debut will appeal to fans of other popular dystopian/sci-fi novels, I need to go over a couple areas. First, I like that we read this story from both Meadow’s and Zephyr’s points of view. I do hope, however, that in the second book their voices are more distinct. I only knew who was speaking based on the chapter headings, their situations, and when Zephyr would use words like “flux” and “skitz” to swear. It was nice understanding more of the world and story since we can read from both points of view, but I didn’t feel a connection to either character. I didn’t really worry about them or care for them like I have for characters in other novels. The constant action and mystery kept me reading more than the characters did.

The setting and the concept, however, are interesting and what sets this book apart from the rest. I can’t go into too much detail here without giving away major plot points though. I’d like to learn more about it in the second book . Hopefully these two pieces along with the character development and voices will be stronger.

It’s difficult to find a dystopian novel now that hasn’t been influenced by the major players published before it. Sometimes that turns me off more than other times when I’m reading, but this time around I appreciated it simply because I can tell The Murder Complex has been influenced by so many of my students’ favorites. It will help me lead them to another series once they finish one or while they’re waiting for a book in a different series. I’m going to break the comparisons down by book for this part of my review.

The Murder Complex and Legend by Marie Lu:

  • The first big comparison is that in both books we’re reading two different point of views. Also, we’re reading a male and female POV in each book which adds additional appeal to readers.
  • The second big comparison is that the main characters in both books should be at odds with one another for various reasons but they’re drawn together. I like the relationship between Day and June in Legend much more than the relationship between Zephyr and Meadow. Zephyr and Meadow have insta-love and I still don’t understand why. I do like, however, that their relationship doesn’t dominate the story. Readers looking for a book without a lot of romance will appreciate that.
  • Meadow is strong and devoted to her family just like June is.
  • I think The Murder Complex is more similar to Legend than any of the other books I’m going to compare it to.

The Murder Complex and Blood Red Road by Moira Young:

  • The strongest comparison to this book is that Meadow and Saba could cause some serious damage to their enemies if they ever paired up in a book. They are fierce.
  • The settings in both books are stark and dangerous.

The Murder Complex and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Young:

  • Meadow is extremely protective of her little sister Peri just like Katniss is protective of her little sister Prim. They’re even both named after plants (or names connected with nature).
  • Zephyr has been drawn to Meadow longer than Meadow knows, much like Peeta and Katniss.
  • Meadow doesn’t want to be involved in this conflict, much like Katniss doesn’t want to be involved in the Hunger Games. It boils down to both protecting their families and doing what they feel is inherently right.

Hopefully these comparisons will help you connect Lindsay Cummings’ debut with readers. If you want to recommend this book to a middle school student, however, I suggest reading it first. There are a number of bloody and violent scenes that don’t go beyond YA, but they may upset sensitive readers.

YA Lit 101 Version 2.0

Last summer my friend Cindy (of Nerdy Book Club & Charting by the Stars) and I launched YA Lit 101 as a sort of summer PD designed to introduce teachers and librarians to different genres in YA. It was a really fun experience and after receiving some emails from participants asking if we plan on doing it again, we decided to relaunch YA Lit 101 with a twist.

Our focus this year opens up the participation to anyone who’s interested in reading and discussing YA. So if you’re neither a teacher nor a librarian, but you have a vested interest in reading YA, I strongly suggest you check out what Cindy and I are doing with version 2.0. We’re incredibly excited about the changes we’re making and hope to have more participants than we did last year. I hope to see you over at YA Lit 101!

Check out YA Lit 101 version 2.0 here to find out more. :)

nErDcampMI

I went to nErDcampMI on Tuesday, it’s Friday Monday (Yeah, life got in the way of this. Sigh.), and I feel like everyone has already said everything I could say or want to say. Yet I still feel the need to blog about it.

I guess I’ll start out with how I initially felt about it last year. I was skeptical. The idea of going to a conference and not knowing what I was going to get out of it (not knowing what sessions would be offered) made me hesitant. It was going to be almost a two hour drive, plus on that day I had two job interviews. But quite a few of my friends were going to be there, so I asked my best friend Lindsay (@LMGrady)  to come along and see what it was all about. It ended up being a really cool experience and for that reason I attended again this year.

This year was better. Despite getting up pretty early to drive to Parma, MI, I was excited to attend the entire day. It’s been a crazy summer so I skipped day one which had planned sessions and speakers. I really liked the un-conference approach to nErDcamp (teachers deciding on the spot what they want to present and which sessions they want to attend), so I knew Tuesday was the day to go.

Lindsay came with me again and we spent a lot of time hanging out with Jessica (@JCrawford728). I’ll admit that meeting up with friends I don’t see very often is a pretty big influence to attend these conferences. Spending some time with Lea (@leakelley), Cindy (@CBethM), Erica (@B10LovesBooks), and Jessica made for an excellent day. Even better? I had the pleasure of presenting with Cindy on Diverse Lit for Diverse YA Readers (session notes). I also saw Lindsay break out of her presentation comfort zone and present with Jessica on What Does Reading and Writing Workshop Look Like in High School (session notes).

The highlight of my day was presenting with Cindy. She and I are working on ideas to get YA Lit 101 started again this summer with a focus on the need for diverse lit. This was an opportunity for us to flesh out ideas, and more importantly, see what other teachers are looking for and reading. It was a full room and almost every single teacher had a title to offer or praise. We furiously wrote down titles and categories on the board and quickly ran out of room. I left the session excited, rejuvenated, and really wanting to read some diverse titles! And since it’s now Monday, almost a week later, I’m going to shorten this post up and leave with you some tweets/pictures about the session to wrap it up. I completely lost my momentum after sitting on this for so many days.

Celebration of books

 

Diverse readers tweet

Session Board

 

Session tweets

 

Session tweet favorite

 

We Are the Goldens Blog Tour: Teen Writing Advice

Dana Reinhardt’s newest novel, We Are the Goldens, released on Tuesday. To celebrate this release she’s participating in a five day blog tour. As an English teacher and reading enthusiast, I asked her to share some writing advice for teens. Her advice is spot on! This post doesn’t necessarily advertise We Are the Goldens, but it adds to the already great impression Dana has made as an admirable YA author.

P.S. This is a powerful book that you’ll want to read and share with your readers! I’ll post my review soon :)

We Are The GoldensSummary (From Goodreads):

Nell knows a secret about her perfect, beautiful sister Layla. If she tells, it could blow their world apart.

When Nell and Layla were little, Nell used to call them Nellaya. Because to Nell, there was no difference between where she started and her adored big sister ended. They’re a unit; divorce made them rely on each other early on, so when one pulls away, what is the other to do? But now, Nell’s a freshman in high school and Layla is changing, secretive. And then Nell discovers why. Layla is involved with one of their teachers. And even though Nell tries to support Layla, to understand that she’s happy and in love, Nell struggles with her true feelings: it’s wrong, and she must do something about it.

**Dana Reinhardt’s Writing Advice for Teens**

I don’t consider myself to be in the advice business, though it was a career I contemplated at an early age. When I was a teenager I went through a phase of forgoing People in favor of Psychology Today at the newsstand. I remember Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip sitting in her little booth with the sign “ADVICE 5 cents” or alternately “Psychiatric Help 5 cents”. She always looked forlorn and lonely, chin in hand, waiting for customers who never showed. Maybe this is part of what ultimately discouraged me from a career in psychology, though I have to believe the rigors of medical school also played a role. So I went back to reading People.
But advice for teen writers? I guess that’s something I can handle. Something about which I might have something to say. It isn’t anything earth-shattering. I don’t have a magic solution, nothing like: Use the force, Luke. My advice is simple, and it’s the same advice most writers give to young people who want to write:

READ.

Read everything. Read to know what you love and read to know what you don’t. Find the writers who speak to you and ask yourself why this is the kind of book you hold close to your chest and part with only to lend to a kindred soul who will love this story the way you do. Find the writers whose stories ring false, the sorts of stories where you can almost hear the click-clacking of the writer’s keyboard because he never fully inhabited the world his characters do. Read to know the genre where you feel at home, and then read outside of that genre because great writing transcends genre.
Here’s my second piece of advice. Again, nothing particularly new:

WRITE.

Write all the time. Write in a journal. Write letters to your friends. Write stories or poems or blog entries or, why not try writing a novel? So what if it only amounts to ten pages? At least you tried. And when you write, remember not to follow any of the rules you’ve learned in English class. (Sorry, English teachers!) Don’t pay attention to punctuation or fragmented sentences. And speaking of sentences, don’t think about topic sentences or supporting sentences or concluding sentences. Break every rule you know. Do not play it safe. Write like nobody will ever read what you’ve written but you. Don’t think of an audience. Don’t wonder what would my English teacher say about this? (Sorry, again, English teachers.) And then, when you have something you’re proud of, show it to someone. Maybe that friend with whom you shared that treasured book.

You are lucky. You have loads of time to find your voice. You can fail spectacularly. In fact, you must fail spectacularly. And when you do, go outside and get some fresh air. Do something fun. And then, pull out a blank piece of paper (or open up a new document on your desktop screen) and try again.

Dana Reinhardt

**Author Info**

Dana Reinhardt’s website
Follow her on Twitter

My Last Kiss Blog Tour–Writing Advice

MLK_Blog_Tour_banner

I’m excited to be part of Bethany Neal’s blog tour for her debut novel My Last Kiss. Today’s stop on the blog tour features Bethany’s writing advice. Hopefully this will helpful to teachers/students/aspiring authors. Thanks, Bethany! :)

My Last Kiss releases on June 10th from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

MY_LAST_KISS_final_coverSummary (From Goodreads):

What if your last kiss was with the wrong boy? 

Cassidy Haines remembers her first kiss vividly. It was on the old covered bridge the summer before her freshman year with her boyfriend of three years, Ethan Keys. But her last kiss–the one she shared with someone at her seventeenth birthday party the night she died–is a blur. Cassidy is trapped in the living world, not only mourning the loss of her human body, but left with the grim suspicion that her untimely death wasn’t a suicide as everyone assumes. She can’t remember anything from the weeks leading up to her birthday and she’s worried that she may have betrayed her boyfriend. 

If Cassidy is to uncover the truth about that fateful night and make amends with the only boy she’ll ever love, she must face her past and all the decisions she made–good and bad–that led to her last kiss.

Bethany Neal’s suspenseful debut novel is about the power of first love and the haunting lies that threaten to tear it apart.

**Bethany Neal’s Writing Advice**

Giving writing advice is a tricky thing. Everybody has their own process and techniques that work for them. And a writer’s process evolves as he/she grows and develops his/her skills. So, giving cut and dry advice on how to write seems counterproductive to me.

There have been many times where I’ve read an article in a magazine or on a website and thought I’d found the cure-all for my writerly woes. And sometimes the advice does help, but it’s usually only a temporary fix for a specific scene or type of book I’m writing at that particular moment.

That’s great and helpful at that time, but I want advice that is helpful all the time. Don’t you?! Something I can always lean back on and utilize to get me through the rough patches of writing—and, trust me, the road to publication is as potholed as my neighborhood streets after the crushing winter we’ve had.

So here it is, the one piece of advice every writer must take and apply daily in order to succeed: Believe in your work.

It sounds so simple, but it is the single most difficult thing you’ll ever attempt. Especially when rejections start rolling in (and they do for everyone at some point in his/her career). It requires constant reminders and sticky notes on your computer monitor (and sometimes bathroom mirror) to assure yourself that your writing is not only good enough but worthy of publishing.

You might feel as if you’re tooting your own horn when you tell yourself these things, but you should be tooting that horn of yours, darn it! Writing is hard and stressful and takes immense dedication, and you are doing it. You deserve a frickin’ orchestra of horns tooting in your honor! But, alas, publishing is more times than not a strings section playing one of those mournful tunes that Russian figure skaters perform to. You need to hold your own horn high in order to get noticed.

But my advice to believe in yourself and your writing is not all streamers and self-help hoorays. There’s a specific practice you can add to your daily writing ritual that will help you gain confidence in your work.

Before you start a new project, make a list of reasons why this story needs to be told and keep it nearby as you write so you can reference it. Tape it to the wall in your office or your desk, your laptop, your forearm, wherever you need to put it to remind yourself why what you’re writing is important.

Then when you’re at the midpoint of your book or story (and probably experiencing a growing amount of fatigue and doubt), make another list. This one is made up of reasons why readers will love your story. If you have trouble making this one, pull the nearest unsuspecting family member aside and ask him/her to tell you about their favorite book, movie, or TV show. If it’s a real good one, you’ll start to pick up on the types of things that readers crave like charismatic, complex characters or a sticky plot hook or ultra cool setting that feels like a character itself. You can also analyze your own favorite if there aren’t any other humans nearby.

Note, this step can also serve as a Litmus test to see if your idea is worth powering through to the end. Not all story ideas are. Sad, but true. If you can’t think of at least three reasons why anyone other than you would enjoy reading what you’re writing—and you am to be published someday—it’s time to shelve the project and move on to the next one keeping the boys in the basement occupied.

Finally, when you’ve typed the two most glorious words in an author’s vocabulary, The End, write a third list. This list is of all the obstacles you overcame in order to complete your opus. This last list will give you the confidence to press forward into the real business of writing. Rewriting.

I make all three of these lists for everything I write. It keeps me motivated, moving forward, and sometimes even throws up a red flag that what I’m writing isn’t a good fit. That can be the most important lesson of all. Knowing what not to write is just as important as—and critical in the progression to—writing a best-seller.

Bethany_Neal_Author

**Author Info**

Bethany Neal writes YA novels with a little dark side and a lot of kissing from her Ann Arbor, Michigan home. The things she is obsessed with include, but are not limited to: nail polish, ginormous rings, pigs, dream analysis, memorizing song lyrics, pickles, dessert, predestined love, not growing up, sour gummy candies, music videos, Halloween, and fictional boys who play guitar.

MY LAST KISS is her first novel. Connect with her online at www.bethanyneal.com and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @BethDazzled.

**Blog Tour Schedule**

May 26:                        The Fantastic Flying Book Club, Welcome post
Day 1- May 27:          Word Spelunking, Top 10 Kisses (t/o pop culture) numbers 6-10
Reading Teen, Top 10 Kisses (t/o pop culture) numbers 1-5
Day 2- May 28:          YA Love, Writing Advice
Day 3- May 29:          YAdult Review, Top 6 Bad Boys (who aren’t so bad)
Day 4- May 30:          Book Loving Me, Story Inspiration
Day 5- May 31:          Broke & Bookish, Top 7 Ghost Stories
Day 6- June 1:           Tales of a Ravenous Reader, Pinterest Inspiration Board
                                        YA Reads, Easter Egg Hunt
Day 7- June 2:           Michelle & Leslie’s Book Picks, Musical Inspiration
                                        Miss-PageTurner’s City of Books, Behind the Pages
Day 8- June 3:           Supernatural Snark, Character Interview, Ethan
                                        GUEST POST: First Kiss Stories, Amy Plum’s Blog
Day 9- June 4:           The Hiding Spot, Q&A
                                         Reader Girls, Ghostly “Rules”
Day 10- June 5:         Book Addicts Guide, Open Interview
                                         Anna Reads, My First Fictional Crush
Day 11- June 6:         Lady Reader’s BookStuff, Playlist Reveal
Day 12- June 7:         Books As You Know It, Q&A
                                         Book Rat, Character Interview, Cassidy
Day 13- June 8:         Proud Book Nerd, Characters Theme Songs
                                        Girls in the Stacks, Podcast
Day 14- June 9:         Literary Rambles, Interview/Review & signed book giveaway
                                        YA Sisterhood, Top 10 Fictional Crushes
Day 15- June 10:      The Best Books Ever, Origin Story
Day 16 June 11:        Fantastic Flying Book Club, Swag Giveaway & Review

**Upcoming Author Signings**

MY LAST KISS Launch Party!!!
When
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
7pm
Where 
Nicola’s Books 
2513 Jackson Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
Details
Join Bethany in publication day festivities! There will be cake, swag giveaways, and the signing of many books. 

Michigan Author Event

When
Saturday, June 14, 2014
2-4pm
Where 
Barnes & Noble 
3311 Tittabawassee Rd.
Saginaw, MI 48604
Details
Visit Bethany and fellow YAer Aimee Carter in the Teen section during this store wide event featuring Michigan authors from varying genres. 

Up North 2-Day Event: Signing/Writing Workshop 

SIGNING
When
Friday, June 20, 2014
2-4pm
Where 
McLean & Eakin Bookstore 
307 E. Lake St.
Petoskey, MI 49770

WORKSHOP
When
Saturday, June 21, 2014
Time 10am-12pm
Where 
McLean & Eakin Bookstore 
307 E. Lake St.
Petoskey, MI 49770
Details
Call McLean & Eakin for more information (231) 347-1180.

Top Ten Tuesday Freebie: Strong Female Protagonists

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

It has been a LONG time since I’ve written a Top Ten Tuesday post! I love that today happens to be a freebie because I’m working on a new bulletin board for my classroom. Four out of five of my classes are seniors and since they’re gone for the school year and I’m going to be on maternity leave at the beginning of next school year, I want to use some of my extra time putting together bulletin boards for next year. I really doubt bulletin boards are going to be a high priority when I’m ready to pop. :)

Anyway, in April I posted the survey results about whether my girls see themselves in what they’re reading. One of the questions I asked them is what they’d love to see in the books they’re reading and a majority of them wish to see strong female characters (their definitions of this vary). Back in February I created a bulletin board featuring book recommendations based on what my students are reading and interested in reading. I’ve decided to merge these two ideas; one section of the bulletin board will feature some strong female characters that my girls are searching for. I’m also thinking about adding a section that features girls in YA who play various sports. Of course, those two ideas can easily be one in the same.

1. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (Goodreads): Elisa isn’t your average royal YA fantasy character. She’s a little bit insecure, she’s very religious, and she’s fat (she describes herself this way). What I love about her, however, is that throughout the first book and the series itself she becomes increasingly self-reliant and a strong leader.

2. Ask the Passengers by A.S. King (Goodreads): A.S. King is one of my favorite authors for reasons like this book and Astrid’s story. Astrid is a character who sees beyond labels, especially those that label sexuality, and simply wants to find herself and where she fits in the world. Plenty of readers will be able to connect with her.

3. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Goodreads): Frankie is still one of my favorite characters and for good reason, too. She’s smart, independent, and full of spunk. I also like that this book features a strong female protagonist and is light-hearted at the same time.

4. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson (Goodreads): One of the things I like about this book is that while there’s a romance, it’s not the center of the story. The main focus of the story is how Hayley is dealing with her father’s PTSD and in turn her own PTSD from dealing with her father. She’s self-reliant almost to a fault. Her journey through this story is touching.

5. Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (Goodreads): I can’t imagine growing up with a prostitute as a mother, especially living in a brothel. Like many of the characters on this list, Josie is independent, smart, and strong-willed. This is an excellent piece of historical fiction and example of how strong a YA character can be.

6. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black (Goodreads): Tana’s wakes up as the only one living after vampires attack a party she attended so she takes a huge risk by entering Coldtown to save a few of the other survivors. Tana is tough, resourceful, and resilient. This is a vampire book and Tana is no Bella Swan.

7. We Are the Goldens by Dana Rheinhardt (Goodreads): This just released today and thankfully I had the ARC to read already. This is a great story about the power of sibling relationships. Nell is extremely close to her older sister Layla, but because of a secret Layla’s keeping, Nell is being pushed away and is forced to figure out who she is without her sister.

8. Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John (Goodreads): I really like Piper. I like that she’s deaf and managing a band. I like that she’s looking out for her little sister and trying to connect with her family. This is a fun, engaging, heartwarming book.

9. Sold by Patricia McCormick (Goodreads): Surviving being sold into prostitution. Enough said.

10. Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu (Goodreads): Have you seen the show Hoarders? Reading Lucy’s story is like watching an episode of Hoarders. Her mom has suddenly died in their home and Lucy feels it’s up to her to keep her mom’s secret and clean up their home before anyone arrives to get her mother’s body. Talk about strong and independent.

Are Teen Girls Seeing Themselves Reflected in What They Read?

Back in March, Kelly at Stacked wrote a blog post about why it’s important to talk about girls reading. I read this and it unsettled me. Instantly I began wondering if I’m doing enough for the girls in my classroom. If I’m focusing too much on the boys and their reading. If I’m reading enough books that will resonate with all of my girls. I’m thankful that I read Kelly’s post because while I know that I truly am thinking about ALL of my students while I read and when I make reading choices, I realized that maybe I need to be a little more focused.

Something that Kelly pointed out that I hadn’t really thought about before is the large amount of attention we pay to our boy readers. Educators are rightfully concerned about their reading abilities and their (general) lack of interest in reading. I have an entire blog page devoted to Books Guys Dig. I’ve written posts about books that hook my boy readers. When I choose a read aloud, I choose something gender neutral. Is this wrong? No. But her post made me realize that we don’t appear to be focusing this much attention on the girls in our classroom.

I sent Kelly an email after reading her post thanking her for bringing this to my attention. It ended up turning into a lengthy stream of emails as we discussed our thoughts on the issue. Eventually I decided that I should poll the girls in my classroom to find out what they think about reading, themselves in terms of reading, gender, etc. Kelly and I constructed a survey with six questions for my girls to answer.

A couple notes about the survey and what my girls said. First, I have mostly seniors, so that’s where the majority of these responses are coming from. Second, the required reading material in our curriculum offers little to no choice and sticks primarily with the classics.

I’m going to have each question in bold and a sampling of their responses will follow each question. I’m not including all of their responses to all of the questions because this post would never be finished.

1. What book(s) have you seen yourself in? Why?

  • “I am currently reading Insurgent and can see myself in the main character Tris because as she goes into her new faction, she separates from her family and all she knows. She is excited and terrified by this, as I am about going to college.”
  • Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant–Tris reminds me of myself because I feel like I’m different from a lot of people and wouldn’t be categorized into one section.”
  • “Hunger Games because Katniss likes to be independent and do things herself and that’s how I am.”
  • Something Like Fate–same situation & Pivot Point–has an indecisive feel to it and that’s how I am.”
  • “I see myself in books where the girl is troubled and questioning the things around her.”
  • “I’ve never really seen myself in a book because when I read it’s to get away from where I am or what’s going on.”
  • The Impossible Knife of Memory–similar home life w/dad.”
  • Forever–she is in love and really cares but in the end it’s realistic. She doesn’t end up with him and her life moves on. & To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before–caring about someone so much yet they have no clue.”
  • “I could relate to Breathing Underwater because I have known people in that situation.”
  • “I really connected to Perks of Being a Wallflower because it was about the awkwardness of high school. I also related a lot to Pattyn in Burned because I like how she feels her life is valuable and she can do more than people think. Also Alaska because she’s bad*ss! (Looking for Alaska)”
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s a coming of age story and the main character finds himself. I have really come into myself this year.”
  • Beautiful Disaster–a girl trying to come out of her shell, falls for the bad boy.”
  • Beautiful by Amy Reed–not to this extreme but I have changed myself because I wanted to fit in.”
  • If I Lie by Corrine Jackson. I only really saw myself similar to the character because she was in a relationship with a marine that was going through boot camp like my boyfriend was doing at the same time I was reading it.”
  • “All of Miranda Kenneally’s books relate to me because her girl characters seem to act/like the things I do.”
  • Rival. It’s about teenage girls and their drama. There’s always drama in girls’ lives.”
  • “I read Bittersweet and I saw myself in her because she was trying to figure out her life.”
  • “I like upbeat, positive novels as well as romance novels. One of my favorites was The Fault in Our Stars. Even in a sad situation, I thought it was a happy story line.”
  • “I’ve seen myself in Reality Boy because I have a sibling that I absolutely can’t stand.”
  • “There have been quite a few Sarah Dessen books that I have strongly related to and see myself in the girls’ shoes and even them in mine.”
  • “Uninvited, a couple characters in Ellen Hopkins’ books, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, the Uglies, The Book Thief. I feel connected due to the outcasted and imaginative feel.”

2. In which book(s) haven’t you seen yourself? What was missing?

  • Hush, Hush because I thought the main character Nora acted stupid at times and seemed oblivious to the danger she put herself in. She was too much of a damsel in distress.”
  • “I really see myself in most books I read, other than the ones I read at school. They never pull me in enough.”
  • “Books I haven’t seen myself in are books that are all love story or books that have lots of dramatic, cliquey girls. I try not to get involved with that stuff so I don’t relate to them at all.”
  • “I tend not to see myself in books where the girl is having the perfect life with lots of friends and does whatever she wants.”
  • Mortal Instruments–Clary seemed to need Jace to survive. I would prefer her to be able to be alone.”
  • Thin Space–it was cool but wasn’t something I would see myself doing or even being real.”
  • Across the Universe, that book is just not a book you can relate to. I’ve never been in a situation like that and the character doesn’t show teenage thoughts.”
  • “I didn’t connect to Bella from Twilight because I wouldn’t sacrifice so much for one guy, love the books though. Also I don’t relate to sports books in general cause I hate sports.”
  • Beautiful by Amy Reed. It was a good book but I lost the sense of self with the main character. She really didn’t know who she was.”
  • Love & Leftovers by Sarah Tregay–She was kind of two-faced when it came to her guys.”
  • “The books we read in school. I really don’t think anybody can relate to them, making them boring for us to read (or leading us not to read them at all).”
  • I read While He Was Away and could not relate at all to the girl or her situation. The character was missing any interesting feelings. It was boring for me.”
  • “I can’t relate to books that are sci-fi or fantasy because I don’t like the unrealistic factor in it.”
  • “In any books that aren’t from a girl’s point of view I haven’t really seen myself.”
  • “I don’t like dark plot lines. I tried reading The Hunger Games but couldn’t get into it. I don’t like action novels.”
  • “In Sweethearts, I didn’t see myself because the main character changed herself for the people around her.”

3. What do you like to see in girl characters? Please explain and provide examples if possible.

  • “Strength (mental & physical), different sexuality (the battle of it), strong willed, loving, can take care of themselves, loyal, stubborn”
  • “I like to see well-rounded girl characters: Tris in Divergent, Hazel in TFiOS, Alaska in Looking for Alaska.”
  • “In girl characters I like to see them falling in love because I enjoy reading about that. Or about girls breaking out of their shell because it’s kinda like me.”
  • “I like girl characters who are independent and strong. I like when the girls are intelligent and always thinking of the possibilities ahead.”
  • “I like to see a sense of independence and outgoing girls. I want to see girls that have gone above male stereotypes and made something of themselves.”
  • “Girls who are tough and can handle being by themselves. I Am Number Four–all the females can handle being alone. Actually they are really the ones who take control.”
  • “I like to see girl characters that can hold their ground and be equal to men.”
  • “I like them to be independent and hard working. They make things happen for themselves without much help. It’s motivating to read about that.”
  • “I like when girls are less popular or attractive yet still accomplish what they put their minds to.”
  • “More down to earth love stories.”
  • “I like unsure girls with new experiences. The Embrace series & The Catastrophic History of You and Me
  • “I really like love stories, so I like to see a girl character that can change a boy’s life for the better or vice versa.”
  • “I like characters that are sporty but romantic or live life on the line like Whitley in A Midsummer’s Nightmare. I can relate to these characters or relate them to people I know.”
  • “I like to see girl characters that are independent and strong. Girls that are more interested in sports or nature rather than the normal girly things.”
  • “Girls who are carefree or romantic and not too emotional.”
  • “I like to see girly girls but can be tough when they need to be.”
  • “I like seeing strong independent girls. Sometimes it’s okay to be ‘rescued’ but sometimes it’s nice to have a character that takes charge and can fend for herself. Times have changed so it’s nice to see how women are becoming more confident in themselves.”
  • “Girls that are in love or were in love and they solve their personal or internal issues on their own.”
  • “I like to see sassy, independent and smart female characters. I like the girls in the Vampire Diaries.”

4. What kind(s) of girls would you love to see in the books you’re reading that you haven’t seen before? Please be as specific as possible.

  • “I would like to see girls do martial arts or swordplay. I think those are things I haven’t see girls do in books.”
  • “Most books I’ve read have that strong female lead, right next to the male lead. Honestly, I want to read more books about a soft sensitive boy that’s searching for love instead of the female.”
  • “Girls that have no need for someone to constantly rescue them and maybe are constantly rescuing someone else.”
  • “I want to see girls who are techy and are journalists. I’ve never read a book about them. Same with girls who go away to college, including the process of getting into college.”
  • “Girls that aren’t dramatic and don’t worry so much about guys because books like that get on my nerves.”
  • “I would love to read a book where the girl is really into music. I feel like there aren’t enough stories where the girl likes to make music, listen to music, etc.”
  • “I would like to see a girl who takes it upon herself to protect others, like Katniss, but without a love interest/triangle thing. Preferably in a dystopian government setting.”
  • “I would love to see girl characters that are maybe more outspoken & fiery instead of the typical quiet but intelligent character I constantly see.”
  • “I want to see girls not always having a male base in their life.”
  • “Ones that don’t take people’s crap yet is still a loving and kind person deep down. The type that truly doesn’t care but deep down has a lot of love to give and get.”
  • “I wanna see girls that aren’t ‘strong’ like every girl character is nowadays. Not every girl is strong. I wanna see girls that have weaknesses or need a man. Real girls.”
  • “I would like to see female athletes in books because there are more female sports players now-a-days. I think this might allow us to relate to them and possibly be hooked on that book.”
  • “I love sporty outgoing girls (like me). I like the girls with conflicts with relationships because I enjoy seeing how people solve their problems.”
  • “Girls that are more down to earth or maybe more athletic.”
  • “I would love to see a girl that is more adventurous than normal. It would be cool to see a female character that has more power over a male as well.”
  • “Funny girls that tell it the way it is to other characters.”
  • “A shy girl who learns how to break out of her shell.”
  • “I feel like sometimes girls are always portrayed as not a ‘nice’ character or something is wrong with them. So I think just having a ‘normal’ girl character in a book would be nice.”
  • “I would like to see maybe Gypsie girls or Native American books with women in them, or possibly mermaids.”
  • “More sporty girls. Like not cheerleading, but like basketball or track and field.”

5. Have you seen yourself in any books that are required reading for school? If so, which book(s)? For which class did you read the book?

**Overwhelmingly I received various types of the answer “No” to this question.”**

  • “I don’t know. I think I could have seen myself in the girl that died in Fahrenheit 451. I read that for Lit & Comp I Honors.”
  • “Maybe The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, and To Kill a Mockingbird. I read them for English class.”
  • “In The Stranger I felt a connection with him because I share some of the same views on life.”
  • “There have been books I’ve seen myself in, in small ways, but I can’t remember what they were.”
  • “I guess that I could kind of relate to the book Siddhartha that we read for LC3 because it focuses on the idea of him basically finding himself which I could relate to.”
  • “I think I see myself in The Great Gatsby, in both Daisy and Gatsby.”
  • “I liked Siddhartha (lit junior year). I felt he really followed his dreams and learned from his mistakes.”
  • “No, usually the books we read at school don’t relate to high schoolers.”
  • “No, they’re all older books and are not really targeted towards girls.”
  • “Not really. I normally don’t like the books we are required to read.”
  • “Nope, we mostly read books that focus on boys.”

6. Have you read any assigned books that are written by a female author or that features a female that sticks out to you? Please explain and provide examples.

**Overwhelmingly I received various types of the answer “No” to this question.**

  • The Scarlet Letter and To  Kill a Mockingbird. Both have a strong female lead who’s life has been shakened and they stick through and survive.”
  • “I don’t think I have. Most assigned books are written by guys, I think.”
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee with Scout. She was young but adventurous and strong in her beliefs.”
  • “Lady Macbeth really sticks out in my mind. She was a power hungry woman doing anything and everything to get what she wanted.”
  • “I’m not sure I’ve read any with a female author…”
  • “Many of the novels I have been assigned feature a male rather than a female, and the author is more commonly a male.”
  • “Not really. I don’t like almost any school assigned books. I’m probably one of the only girls that hates Romeo & Juliet.”
  • “Honestly, I cannot think of a good assigned reading book written by a girl or about a girl. The only book I can think of with a large girl character is Romeo & Juliet. And Juliet was a manipulable character.”

March is Reading Month

Just a warning–this post might be lengthy and might be all over the place. I have a lot of ideas and lots of excitement about this month.

If you aren’t aware of this, I started my 7th year of teaching this year in a new district. My new district has a certified media specialist whereas my last district lost ours and decided not to replace her. Working in a district again with a media specialist has been really nice because she and I work together to encourage reading.

I’ve been encouraging my students to read since the beginning of the school year like I usually do. This year my students, my seniors in particular, have responded really well to my efforts. A friend of mine who teaches math in my building approached me about helping her promote literacy in her math class. She’s reading Subjects Matter by Harvey Daniels and wants to incorporate his ideas. I love her enthusiasm, but I also understand how tough it is to get students and teachers alike to see literacy as important outside of an English classroom. This is incredibly disappointing, but it’s also something that I’m trying to conquer because literacy is important in every aspect of school and life. I gave her some ideas to get started and also asked one of my friends, Brian Wyzlic, for ideas as well since he’s promoting literacy in his math classroom.

After talking with my friend about this, I spoke with our media specialist, Rachael, about it. I wanted to know if she had any ideas as well. This sparked a conversation about March is Reading Month because she’s been thinking about how to get the school involved. Perfect timing, right? Rachael and I started brainstorming and came up with a list of ideas. She spent the day talking with a few other teachers in our building to see what they thought. More ideas were added to the list. I can’t really explain how excited I am about this month.

My reading life door this year.

My reading life door this year.

Switching gears for a minute. Earlier in the week I spoke with my principal about my Literacy Lockers idea. I wanted to get my feet wet this year before approaching him about the idea and I wanted to give my students a chance to get used to me and get used to doing so much reading. My principal loves the idea and he loves my reading life door (the picture that inspired me to do this). He asked me how we can get more teachers creating reading life doors and posting what they’re reading outside their classrooms. My wheels started turning and I wasn’t even thinking about March is Reading Month. After a department meeting I approached one of my department members who also teaches social studies. He told me that he was already talking to his class about creating a reading life door and loves the idea! He asked me to send him some tips so he can make his similar in format to mine while putting his own spin on it. I then approached two more department members and their responses were positive. Unfortunately, my students aren’t as excited about creating Literacy Lockers, but I haven’t given up on them. Quite a few of them are participating, but I’d love to have more take part. I think once they see their classmates doing this, and if more teachers have their classes do this, they’ll feel more comfortable about it.

Anyway, the reading life door conversations fit in nicely with my conversation with Rachael about March is Reading Month ideas. She included that idea along with the Literacy Lockers idea in her email to the school inviting everyone to participate. We also invited teachers and students to submit their favorite lines from books so we can create twirly things (a very technical term) to hang from the ceiling of the library with the book cover on one side and the quote on the other. We asked the math department to graph the amount of books read and/or the pages read during the month of March that can be scrolled outside the media center. After reading the Nerdy Book Club post about picture books and illustration mentors, I sent the link to Rachael with the idea that the art teachers could do something similar. Or maybe the art teachers could have students recreate book covers. Rachael sent her invitation email at the end of the day on Friday and she received responses right away. Our teacher who runs the news cast wants to run a “Caught You Reading” feature. I’m going to ask our administrators to create reading life doors. We would love to see the secretaries post what they’re reading on their desks or create a reading life space on the outside of their desks.

This coming week may be ACT/MME week (state testing week), but I couldn’t be more excited about it. I can’t wait to find out what other teachers say in reply to Rachael’s email. I can’t wait to talk to teachers and others about their ideas and help make those ideas happen. I can’t wait to hear what my students think about this.

We’r still coming up with ideas and would love your opinions! I hope everyone is gearing up to read and celebrate March is Reading Month! As these ideas come to fruition, I’ll be posting about this again to update everyone.

Bulletin Board Book Recommendations

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a difficult time switching my bulletin boards throughout the school year. It often becomes one more thing on my never ending to-do list, but I act if inspiration strikes. Yesterday I was inspired.

I only have two mid-sized bulletin boards in my classroom so I try to utilize those spaces as much as possible. On one of my bulletin boards I started the year with a Wonder-inspired Choose Kind board where my students pinned moments of kindness. Since I’m done reading Wonder out loud I knew it was time for a change. The other day I surveyed my students on their favorite books read last semester and the books they’d like to read this semester. There were quite a few common threads between my classes and it’s been on my mind since I have a limited amount of those particular books (think Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars). Anyway, I suddenly thought of an idea to hopefully remedy that situation yesterday during class. I decided to create a bulletin board recommending books.

Of course that’s not exactly a unique idea by any means, but I’m hoping it will be effective. A number of my students love Ellen Hopkins’ books and many have fallen in love with John Green this year. I also have more Divergent fans than I’ve had before. And as usual, I have many realistic fiction fans. So I broke my bulletin board up into four sections: books for Divergent fans, books for Ellen Hopkins fans, resilience lit, and books for John Green fans. I limited each recommendation space to six books. I have leftover paint chips that I used for my Choose Kind board, so I left those on the bulletin board ledge for my students to pin additional recommendations on the board. Already one of my seniors added two book recommendations to the Ellen Hopkins section.

Book Rec Bulletin Board

When I decided on the books to recommend I looked up lists online, asked a few of my students for their opinions, and also used my own book knowledge. My Divergent fans section includes recommendations for Blood Red Road by Moira Young, Enclave by Ann Aguirre, Legend by Marie Lu, Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Variant by Robison Wells, and Feed by M.T. Anderson (this isn’t part of a series, but it’s a good recommendations). My Ellen Hopkins recommendations include Criminal by Terra Elan McVoy, Clean by Amy Reed, Sold by Patricia McCormick, Want to Go Private? by Sarah Darer Littman, Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams, and Recovery Road by Blake Nelson. When choosing these books I considered writing style (two of these are verse novels) and primarily similar content. My resilience literature recommendations include Don’t Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles. This was a tough section for me to narrow down because I wanted to include novels written by A.S. King, Trish Doller, David Levithan, and so many more authors. For my John Green fans I recommended Winger by Andrew Smith, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. I was a little uncertain about these recommendations because all of these books are so different. But one of my John Green fans said I should include some of these titles because of the unexpected endings that she’s found in Green’s novels. I also considered similar characters and writing style. Regardless, I hope these recommendations will expand my students’ horizons.

I’d like to switch up this board a couple more times before the end of the school year. One of my classes of seniors has a large group of fantasy fans. I also have a number of students who want to read everything sports. And then there are my romance and mystery fans. And like I said before, I really hope my students will take part and add their own recommendations.

If you’ve created a bulletin board or book display like this one, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section. Was it successful? Did it promote discussion? Were reading ladders created?

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