Book Passes Lead to Reading

On the second day of every school year I utilize a book pass to expose my students to a wide variety of books. It’s one of my favorite days of the school year because there’s a mix of excitement and uncertainty, but it always leads to reading. This year, after facilitating this session about creating a community of readers in the high school classroom, five other teachers in my building facilitated book passes this week!

This year I have my desks in groups of six since I have 35 desks in my classroom; it’s the easiest way to make them all fit and still feel like we have room to move around. So I had my students stay in their groups and pass the books within their groups. I gathered a wide range of genres, authors, and past class favorites for my students to choose from. Each student chose a book, wrote down the title and author, and then began reading for three minutes. I kept time on my phone and when it ended they wrote down Yes, No, or Maybe in regards to whether that book is of interest to them. Then they passed their book to the right and on the cycle went. Once or twice between passes I asked if anyone found a “Yes” book and allowed them to share that title and why they want to read it. We cycled through about seven books during each class this week.

Before the end of class I stop the book pass so students can put the books away, and more importantly, check out any book(s) they discovered and want to read. A few of my senior classes this year seemed a little apprehensive about checking out any books they found, but most of my classes had long lines of students waiting to check out their books. As I looked at the pages of books checked out, I decided it would be fun to write a post including which books my students chose to kick off their reading year.

Building a Community of Readers in the High School Classroom

This past week my high school held a professional development summit with two other neighboring high schools. It was a fun way to kick off the school year since teachers had the opportunity to learn from and present to other teachers throughout the day. My friends, Lindsay Grady and Amanda Canterbury and I ran a two part session about the importance of a reading community in the high school classroom.

Lindsay, Amanda, and I are voracious YA readers and love fostering a love of reading in our students. It was my principal who suggested that I put something together for the summit; it was just the nudge I needed to make an inkling of an idea blossom into something more. I had been thinking about creating a PD session that was interactive and revolved around reading, but I wasn’t sure how or where to make that happen. Once my principal mentioned the summit, I knew I wanted Lindsay and Amanda working with me.

Lindsay's Read AloudSince each session ran for 50 minutes, we decided to run it in two parts. The first part would be the why we do what we do and the second part would be the how we do what we do. We focused on read alouds, book talks, a book pass, independent reading projects, and sustained silent reading (SSR). During the first part we explained what each of these are and tips/tricks/books to use. When we moved into the second session the teachers experienced a read aloud, book talks and a book pass. It was relaxed and really fun. Lindsay read aloud the first twelve pages of Stolen by Lucy Christopher, which will definitely hook readers. Amanda book talked Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby and shared why it made her cry. I book talked All the Rage by Courtney Summers and read the first five pages when Romy provides readers with a powerful flashback. We also shared pictures of our classroom libraries, book displays, and different projects students have created in response to reading. The three of us also made sure to express the importance of CHOICE; our students wouldn’t be nearly as excited about reading without choice.Amanda's Book Talk

As the three of us worked on creating this session, I couldn’t help but think about how powerful it would be if the attending teachers could leave with books to add to their classrooms. I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and reach out to a few publishers for help. I’ve requested books from publishers, but I have never requested enough books to hand out to a large group before. I didn’t know what to expect and I felt awkward sending the emails. My friends, YA publishers are awesome and generous. Thanks to their overwhelming kindness, the teachers who attended our session left with roughly 10 books each! At one point this summer, I think I had close to 400 books in my basement.

Bags of BooksGrocery bags of books lined the front of the room where we presented. We waited until the end of the second session to surprise the teachers with the books and I really wish I would have taken a picture of their faces. They were SO EXCITED when we told them what was in the bags! A few were excited that the books Amanda and I book talked were included. For the rest of the day teachers approached us to thank us or to say that they were disappointed that they missed our session. It’s priceless knowing that those books are going to reach students across three school districts. I’ve tweeted it a few times already, but I’m going to say it again: Thank you, HarperCollins, Little, Brown & Co, St. Martin’s Griffin, and Candlewick Press!!!

Summit Books

I uploaded the presentation we created onto Slideshare and am including the link here if you’d like access to it. Lindsay, Amanda, and I included a link to Penny Kittle’s Book Love Grant and to ALAN’s website. We also have links to class library book recommendations, graphic novel recommendations (after it was requested by an attending teacher), and read aloud recommendations. If part of the presentation doesn’t work or if images are missing, please let me know.

Combining Reading, Discussion, and Technology as Summer Homework

One of my favorite parts of being a teacher is the reflection that’s involved. This past school year was different and challenging since I was on maternity leave at the beginning and wasn’t able to create the same community that I could have had I been there all year. My long-term sub did a fantastic job setting the tone and getting my students excited about reading, but I personally still felt like something was lacking on my end. I didn’t have as much time to make an impact on my students as readers. Thankfully I discovered through my students’  reading reflection essays at the end of the year that I did help some of my students discover a love of reading. Below are two excerpts from those reading reflection essays.

Margaret's response

Renae's response

On top of being on maternity leave for part of the school year, I returned to school  and encountered new technology. Through a millage, our school district has acquired many Chromebooks and is now using Google Apps for Education. I stepped out of my comfort zone and started using Google Classroom with great success. My students and I utilized Docs, Slides, Forms and more this year, but I hadn’t yet tried Groups. After reflecting over the success of Google Classroom and wishing I had more time to build my community of readers, I knew I had to explore ways to bring those elements together in my summer homework assignment for my incoming honors freshmen. I want more of my students to have experiences like the students who wrote the letters pictured above.

I took over the honors freshmen course (Literature and Composition I Honors) this past year, so this was my first opportunity to design the summer homework assignment. In the past, the students were required to read various short stories and write paragraphs analyzing those stories. That’s not my style. I wanted them to have choice in their reading and I knew I wanted them to be familiar with Google Classroom since we’ll be using it this coming school year. I also wanted to find a way to build our reading community before we even met one another on the first day of class.

After reflecting and conferring with my peers, I came up with this (there are two other parts to my summer homework assignment outside of the reading):

Part III–Reading:

Reading throughout the summer will help you avoid “summer setback” and keep you in better academic preparedness for the 2015-2016 school year. Instead of requiring one book for all of us to read I’m expecting you to read widely and read often this summer. Like I noted at the beginning of this assignment, I work diligently to create a community of readers; we’re going to start building that community this summer.

Summer is the perfect time to introduce yourself to new genres and authors. Read a graphic novel like Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge or El Deafo by Cece Bell. Open yourself up to a dystopian series like Legend by Marie Lu or The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Travel back in time with some great historical fiction novels like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. If you have younger siblings or babysit young children read aloud a wonderful picture book like You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown and The Snatchabook by Helen Docherty. Ask your parents to read the novels with you to share the experience and open up discussions. Share books with your friends who are enrolled in the class as well. The opportunities for reading this summer are endless.

To help build our classroom community, I’m requiring you to post about your reading experiences via Google Groups. This summer you will post at least twice about what you’ve been reading and also comment on other students’ posts as well. Your individual posts may be book recommendations, questions about books or what to read, great quotes/passages from a book, etc. The comments you make on other posts should be thoughtful in nature and may also consist of questions, comments, recommendations, etc. I will also be reading widely this summer, so you’ll see my posts, comments, and recommendations as well.

After that, I included the guidelines and the dates that I would like them to post by. Their first post on Google Groups isn’t due until July 16th, but we’ve already had a conversation going about The Book Thief.  The picture below is a screenshot of that discussion (student names have been removed).

The Book Thief Convo

Sure, there are some writing rules we’ll need to address at the beginning of the school year, but this type of discussion excites me. This is what I see/hear happening in my classroom after I establish what a reading community is and get them excited about reading. If this sort of dialogue continues over the summer then I know we’ll have an even more successful school year. I want them to feel comfortable talking about books on the first day of school. Too many students enter my room intimidated by reading; it’s my hope that this will erase that intimidation factor.

In my assignment letter I also included the following resources to help them find books to read:

If you need help finding great books to read this summer consider using the following resources:

The first part of their summer homework assignment is to send me an introductory email. Many of them have mentioned books they enjoy and have asked for book suggestions. I love this part of the assignment because I get to see how well they write formal emails and–more importantly–I can start getting to know them. A few students have asked if it’s required that they read a certain number of books or if they are expected to read the books I specifically mentioned in the assignment. Their replies to those emails are full of relief at knowing they have the freedom to read what they want and as much as they want.

I’m looking forward to what the remainder of the summer brings.

Students’ Thoughts About Book Covers

In 2012 I polled both my Young Adult Literature class and my freshmen classes to learn their opinions about book covers. The results were enlightening. During the spring one of my Facebook “memories that popped up was when I shared those posts; I had forgotten that I polled my students about that. I decided to poll my current freshmen to see what they think, especially if they feel similarly to my students from 2012.

I asked all of the same questions as I did in my previous poll. I also included the option for them to share which book covers they like and why. In 2012 I printed off a survey and passed it out to my students. This year I created a Google Form and linked it to my students’ Google Classroom page. Out of my 53 freshmen, 49 of them responded (12 boys and 37 girls).

I have graphic breakdowns for the first two questions and I’m including a variety of the responses to the remaining questions.

Book Cover Graphs

What color combination on a book cover draws your attention the most?

“I just need color schemes that represent the theme of the book, as long as it’s accurate I don’t care. For example, a book that has darker themes probably has a darker cover, and books with lighter themes have lighter colors. I would read both, but I like that it gives me an insight to how this book is going to go.”


“The color combination does not effect my thoughts on a book. To me it depends if the book grabs the readers attention.”


“A black and red combination, but I also read just black covers with drawings as well.”


“I’m drawn to really any colors, but some colors are green, puarple, and blue, anything that is attention grabbing as well.”


“Usually I am drawn to brighter colors on the cover of my books. I usually am attracted to them more because they stand out to me.”


“I feel color scheme needs to be related to the mood or the events that will take place within a book. The book needs a good combination that makes it pop out more than the other books around it. One color will not do the trick, unless that is what the book will be like. The cover has to represent the book as a whole, or otherwise I will not be able to get interested in it.”


“Opposite colors (Ex. Black and white, purple and yellow, etc.) or colors that compliment each other”


“Probably clashing colors, something that makes it stand out, such as the black and green cover for Liars Inc..”


“For me, I do not look for a specific color combination. If I like how the cover looks with that color combination I will check it out to see if I would like the book.”


“When looking for a book, I look for simple, white backgrounds with only a few notable words. I am drawn in by a clean look.”


Is font style and placement important to you? Explain.
“No, as long as I can read what it says”


“Yes. When an author’s name is bigger than the title, I will not read the book. If the font is curly and cute, I will assume that the book is sweet and romantic, so I will not read it. I guess I have a lot of expectations from my book covers.”


“Yes, if a title or author is in a spot or font where I cannot see nor read it, or blocks the cover in a certain way, that immediately says “DO NOT READ!” to me.”


“Not really. I will notice if I don’t like it, but it doesn’t really stop be from reading it.”


“Yes, because the font should fit the style of the book, and the placement helps add more reason for someone to want to read it, and tends to draw the reader in.”


“Yes, because if a book covers a dark topic, I don’t want them to have super “pretty” hand writing unless there is a god reason. For example, if a girl is writing a letter in the book, it is okay to have nice hand writing.”


“The font for me should match the tone of the book. For example, if it were a serious book then I would expect the font to e a sharped or jagged edge type of lettering, not a rounded font.”


“YES, I love it when there is a different font for the cover, and it helps show what the book can be about.”


“Font and style is very important to me because it should help show the mood of the book. Font and its style should be adding a great expression to the book or accent the feel of how the novel is.”


“I like certain fonts for the cover. I also like texture, which sounds weird. I love the matte book covers rather then the glossy covers.”


“Font is the most important, “despite the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” a font can tell you quite a lot about the book like weather or not its an intense horror book with jagged words or a love story with cursive.”


“Yes, its very important. It has to be an interesting font to catch my attention or else I will scan right over that book. I also really don’t like it when the Authors name is bigger than the title because I feel it takes away from the book title/cover.”


Would you feel comfortable reading a book w/a gender-specific feel to it? (Guys reading a book w/a “girly” cover.)
**Note: In every class we have the conversation about books being for every reader, not just certain genders.**


“Yes because I think that either gender can read any type of book if it interests them.”




“Yes, because it doesn’t really matter about the gender or cover. If the book sounds good and is good and you like it, then it’s fine.”


“Totally. It should not matter who the targeted audience was. Maybe that person wants to see life from another point of view…I think it’s completely acceptable, and there should be no bias against it.”


“Yes, I do feel comfortable reading a book with a gender specific feel to it because some of my favorite books have male characters on the cover, and is even about a guy.”


“Yes, one of my favorite books has a more of guy-ish feel when you see the cover. (Divergent)”


“I personally don’t care because I will read any book if it interests me, whether it’s meant to be a “guy” book or a “girl” book. However I do think that a lot of guys care a lot more, so I wish that book covers weren’t as gender specific as they are.”


“Yes, it does not bother me. A book is a book, as long as it is good it would not matter to me.”


“I prefer a guy feel and protagonist because it is more relatable, but I’m fine with both.”


“I don’t mind reading books with the opposite gender, Like Winger, I like see how they feel about things.”


“I feel like for girls it’s not as big of a deal because guy books don’t really seem like they are just for guys. But for some reason people think its “weird” and “gay” for guys to want to read a girly or romance book”

“Yes, I am a girl though and girls usually don’t have a problem with reading “guy books”. I don’t think there is a such thing as a book that only one gender should read, because everyone understands different things and can relate to different things.”

“I don’t think there is such a thing. Girls and guys should be able to read any books that they find interesting.”


“Yes, I like when books are directed to just girls or just boys. It makes it easier to relate to the book when it is directed to your own gender.”


“nah, I stick to mostly to masculine type of books”


“Yes. I have read books of all sorts. I do not believe in “gender specific books” I believe in reading what YOU want to read. If I were to pick up a “manly” book and it wasn’t good, then I wouldn’t read it. But the quality of the book is what matters. Not the gender specific aspect of it.”


“I feel semi-comfortable reading a gender specific (girly) book, but the real deciding factor at that point is how good the book is.”


“No. Books are books. Do we really need to gender stereotype our literature?”


“I don’t mind reading books from diverse points of view. If I only read books from one point of view, I would probably be out of books to read by now.”


Do you prefer to see the character’s “face” or would you rather imagine the character on your own?


“Imagine the characters face and having it not be on the cover.”


“I like to imagine the character on my own.”


“I absolutely hate seeing the characters because I prefer to visually people, not be given a picture of what they look like, leave that up to the description. Objects and symbols provide a better clue into what the book may be about than a “face” would. Objects also make a story seem more authentic and original, rather than “oh look, a person…hmm””


“It really does not matter to me because I end up making my own Image of a character anyway, although a picture may influence my mental image,”


“I prefer both, sometimes when I’m having a tough time imagining the character, I look at the cover, but other times, I prefer to think up what the character looks like.”


“I would rather form my own opinion from the story and imagine it on my own.”


“I would prefer to imagine the “face” on my own because I feel like the sky’s the limit for book characters. I can imagine how I would want the character to look if it were me writing the novel.”


“I like seeing the characters face because if I read a book and someone is described, I always imagine someone I know. Sometimes I don’t like that because it confuses me with thinking, “oh well so and so wouldn’t do that” but then at other times I do, because after the book ends I think of what that person would do.”


“I like to imagine my own characters because I like to put myself into the situation as the characters”


“I like to imagine my own characters, especially if it gets turned into a movie and the actor/actress doesn’t look like the cover model.”


“I like for the author to describe the characters, but I don’t care for pictures.”


“I don’t have a preference, because I don’t pay attention to the models on the book when I imagine the characters.”


“I would rather leave the imagination to the reader because I am a fan of letting the reader piece parts of the story together on their own”


If possible, please provide some examples of book covers that you like and why.
The 5th Wave“The Fifth Wave, because it has colors that contrast with each other, but it didn’t slam it in your face. I also like how they don’t show what the character looks like. That way I can imagine her the way I want. Revived by Cat Patrick, was an amazing book, and had an awesome cover. It had a model on the cover which I don’t normally like, but for this one it covered a lot of her face with the blue paper so it turned out perfect”


“One that I can think of is “Out of My Mind”. It’s a fish jumping out of it’s bowl. not only is it attention grabbing and thought provoking, but when we read the story, it encompassed the main idea of the book theme wise and it was an actual occurrence in the book.”


“I like Sarah Dessen covers because some are bright and fun, when the more somber novels still are exciting to draw you in.”


Between Shades of Gray“I like Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys because the cover is simple with light colors, but has a pop of color with the leaf which attracted me to it. I also like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Sekret by Lindsay Smith because the background is really interesting and the titles are written in an unusual font which makes them unique.”


“I really liked the cover Also Known As by Robin Beckman because it has models who are representing the character and the color is intriguing. I also really like the cover of Gabi a Girl in Pieces cause the Orange is very bright.”


“But I Love Him By: Amanda Grace – This cover has the project that the main character is working on throughout the book. This helps the reader imagine something that’s very hard to explain threw words.”


“I like the book covers: 1.Moonglass- because it shows a beachy, mysterious and intriguing theme. 2.Hunger Games- because you can tell that there is something that occurs in the novel that the main character is involved in.”


“13 Reasons why- I like the cover of this book because obviously it’s the character that died on the front (Hannah Baker) and then when you open up the cover, it’s a map Hannah left Clay after she died so you can follow along in the story and see where Clay goes around his town.”


All the Rage“All the Rage- Because 1.)its creepy 2.)It’s got a blurred image of the character so you’ve got an IDEA of what she looks like, but nothing for certain and 3.) Because the font isn’t all the same, some have little cracks in them, i think the cracks add character to the cover and hints into the plot of the story.”


“Catching Jordan- I really like it because it is foreshadowing that football is going to be a big part of the book.”


“The book cover of brutal youth by Anthony Breznican is one of my favorites. It’s simple, classy, but at the same time sends a message that this is a book with serious issues.”


“Liars Inc., the colors clash well, and picture provides an eerie feeling”


“I Am Not A Serial Killer’s cover because of the striking font. Also the cover of Gone because it is dark and has lots of black with green which comes across as dangerous and mysterious.”


“I LOVE the original book cover for ‘The Book Thief.’ It was the one where Liesel was dancing with death in the black coat. I felt like it represented the novel without being horribly cliché, which is something that gets old when you see a thousand books of cute girls in dresses in fields kissing some boy. The cover for ‘The Book Thief’ was original and interesting.”


“I really like the cover of It’s Kind Of a Funny Story because it is very interesting and shows the book in a very cool way without showing a character.”


Every Day“Everyday: The color scheme (tan, black, white) of the book depicts the story very well along with the floating bodies that A could inhabit.”


“I like the cover of “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer” because it looks so mysterious and interesting”


“I liked the cover of Panic by Lauren Oliver. You do see the face of the main character, but it has a mysterious tone to it.”


“Things We Know by Heart because the hearts on the cover goes from a real human heart to a drawing of a heart.”


“I like the book cover Paper Towns with the pin and map, because in the book there is a part to the cover. I liked this book called 100 Cupboards, because the cover shows the different kinds of cupboards that the book talks about. Also, The Book Thief, with the dominos, because this isn’t in the book, but it has a meaning to the story, that yo can connect yourself at the end of the story.”


“I liked to covers of Grasshopper Jungle (the newer not plain green one), Winger, High and Dry, and Freefall.”



Students Love Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes

A few months ago I started a staff book club so more teachers could read and get together to discuss books that will appeal to our students. One of the books we read is Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes since all of us enjoyed Gone Girl. It’s a fun mystery that I enjoyed reading. When I book talked it in class I told my students that it’s a lighter than Gone Girl, but similar in the sense that it keeps you guessing. It’s only been a month since I brought a copy to class and I haven’t seen it since. It’s been passed between five different students in my first A block class.

I love seeing a book become a hit among my students, so I asked four of them (it’s still with the fifth reader) to write a sentence or two summing up their thoughts about Liars, Inc. Almost every one of them read it within a day or two, many saying they stayed up late reading.

Liars, IncJacob and Will said:

“Liars, Inc. was a great story. I enjoyed it; I couldn’t put it down. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes reading.”

“A great book, kept me guessing the entire time.”

Cory and McKenzie said:

“Liars, Inc. kept me reading all night and kept me guessing the whole time. A great book for anyone who loves a great mystery.”

“Liars, Inc. was impossible to put down. Every time you think you know what’s going to happen you change your mind.”

Summary (From Goodreads):

For fans of Gone Girl, I Hunt Killers, and TV’s How to Get Away with Murder.

Max Cantrell has never been a big fan of the truth, so when the opportunity arises to sell forged permission slips and cover stories to his classmates, it sounds like a good way to make a little money and liven up a boring senior year. With the help of his friends Preston and Parvati, Max starts Liars, Inc. Suddenly everybody needs something and the cash starts pouring in. Who knew lying could be so lucrative?

When Preston wants his own cover story to go visit a girl he met online, Max doesn’t think twice about hooking him up. Until Preston never comes home. Then the evidence starts to pile up—terrifying clues that lead the cops to Preston’s body. Terrifying clues that point to Max as the murderer.

Can Max find the real killer before he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? In a story that Kirkus Reviews called “Captivating to the very end,” Paula Stokes starts with one single white lie and weaves a twisted tale that will have readers guessing until the explosive final chapters.


I May Need Additional Copies of These Books

Some school years certain books are more popular with my students than others, but no matter the year, the popularity of specific books among my students prompts me to buy more copies of those titles. It’s expensive, and sometimes a gamble (The Hunger Games trilogy isn’t so popular anymore that it requires me to have 4+ copies of each book), but I’m always happy to provide these books for my students when I know they really want to read them (and they want to read them now!).

I started thinking about writing this post after my principal observed me one morning and watched some of my students giving book talks. He asked me if I’ve noticed any changes in their reading habits because of the book talks, and I have. My students are discussing their books and making recommendations to each other much more often since we’ve started book talks. Our news cast teacher has even started a book talk feature for the news cast that features his reporters interviewing students about a book they recommend. It’s exciting watching my students pick up a book after a classmate has discussed it.

So as I watch my “Book(s) Waiting List” grow each day, I contemplate which books I need double and even triple copies of. I’m listing some of this year’s titles that I’m considering buying more copies of.

My list (in no particular order primarily because I’m typing this on my iPad and I’m lazy ;)):

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally (and pretty much every single one of Miranda’s books)–I can’t keep track of how many times I’ve replaced a copy of one of Miranda’s books  and how often there’s a waiting list for her books.

Winger by Andrew Smith–I already own three copies and those aren’t enough to keep my students satisfied. They all want to read this and they all want to read it RIGHT NOW.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith—This isn’t my favorite book, but since I book talked it the day after the ALA awards my kids have been fighting over my ARC.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky–I have a feeling this is a class favorite in many classrooms. I have two copies and that nevers seems to be enough. I didn’t respond the same way to this book that my students have, but I think that’s because I’m an adult. The movie, however, moved me to tears.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick–For a while I had at least three students waiting on this one after a freshman book talked it in class. I think a student found it through a book pass at the beginning of the year and it’s been making the rounds since.

Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers–I usually have two copies of this in my class library, but every year one goes missing and I need to buy another replacement. One of my freshmen girls book talked this last week and she instantly hooked a few students in class. One of my boys requested that he reads it next since it sounds so realistic.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson–Right now a few students are waiting for my one copy to return. I spent time book talking it after it won the Printz award and one of my seniors also book talked it. Her book talk won over more students than mine did which is one of the reasons why I require my students to do this; they often listen to each other more than they listen to me. 😉



Run Much? YA Titles Featuring Runners

When I think about sports books I’m typically thinking about football, basketball, and baseball. I honestly have a difficult time getting into those stories, but I’m try to read at least a few titles under that category each year. I think, however, that it’s easy to forget about our students who don’t participate in those sports. I need to remind myself that I also have runners, soccer players, swimmers, etc. in my classes. Thankfully I caught myself reading a few books in a row featuring runners. I’m going to guess that I’m not the only teacher or librarian who forgets about this, which is why I decided to write a post about YA characters who run for one reason or another.

Anna from Moonglass by Jessi Kirby (Goodreads): Anna runs on a team (cross-country, I believe), but she’s also running to clear her head. I liked this part of the story because while it added another element to the plot, it also added another layer to the conflict.

Jessica from The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen (Goodreads): I listened to the audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed it. Jessica’s story is so much more than a story about a runner. It’s about overcoming adversity, friendship, family, and more. I was really touched by how much of a family Jessica’s track team was to her.

Felton from Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach (Goodreads): If you’ve followed my blog for a while then you know how much I love this book. Felton is a stupid fast runner who runs on the track team (how his speed was discovered) and is a fast runner on the football team. Sports in general help Felton work through his family troubles and his personal conflicts.

Alice from On the Road to Find Out by Rachel Toor (Goodreads): Alice is a fun and quirky character who has decided she’s going to be a runner when her college plans don’t work out. I like that she’s goal-oriented and driven because so many of my students are. This is a great book for my seniors who are overwhelmed and stressing out about college, especially those who haven’t been accepted to their first choice schools. I’m not a runner by any means, but Alice’s story made me feel like I could be a runner, too.

Annie from Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally (Goodreads): Annie has decided to train for a marathon in honor of her boyfriend who died tragically. Miranda Kenneally’s characters continue to become more interesting with each book that she writes. I really enjoyed watching Annie become a marathon runner and watching her work through her grief.

Kate from Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson (Goodreads): Kate’s plate is more than full. She’s in charge of taking care of her family, she’s only applied to one college, her mother has passed away, and her father has taken in a family who she doesn’t get along with. Running is a way for her to calm her nerves and keep some control in her life. This is one of my favorite books written by Laurie Halse Anderson and one that I wish more of my students would read.

Nastya from The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay (Goodreads): This is one of my favorite books and it’s because I got to know the characters so well. Nastya is dealing with more than her fair share of issues and running helps her feel in control. Running has also led her to Josh Bennett who is also dealing with too much. This is a wonderful story that I couldn’t get enough of.

Nico from Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder (Goodreads): Nico is another character who runs to escape. His brother has died and so has his friend. Running helps him clear his head and relieve some of the anger he feels.

Join me at NCTE!

On Thursday morning I leave for my fifth annual National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) trip. This year it’s in Washington DC (National Harbor) and I’m both excited and a little nervous, too. I’m nervous about leaving Jack for a few days, but I know he’ll be in good hands while I’m gone. I’m mostly excited, however, because I love being surrounded by passionate English teachers and authors. Usually at this point in the school year I need a pick-me-up. Since I’m returning to work after NCTE, I think it will be a great way to make me even more excited about coming back to work.

This year I’ll be presenting for the third time. Both of my sessions are on Friday. It will be nice to get them over with in one day so I can relax and enjoy the rest of my trip. I’m really looking forward to the session I’m co-chairing with Jillian Heise. Here’s the information from the program; we’d love to see you there!

C.02 How Story Comes to Be: Author/Editor Relationships
Maryland A

In rotating roundtables, authors and their editors share methods of working together in drafting and revising to create stories (in middle
grade, young adult, and professional books). As they work with student writers, teachers can model interactions after these author/editor
relationships to provide guidance and support in communicating their stories.

Co-chairs: Jillian Heise, Indian Community School of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Sarah Andersen, Fenton Area Public Schools, Michigan

Tradebook Authors:

Miranda Kenneally, Sourcebooks, New York, New York
Karen Harrington, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, New York, New York
Jennifer Rush, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, New York, New York
Jason Reynolds, Simon and Schuster, New York, New York
Atia Abawi, Penguin Young Readers Group, New York, New York
Kevin Emerson, Walden Pond Press, New York, New York
Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Disney Book Group, New York, New York
Trish Doller, Bloomsbury Publishing, New York, New York
Wendelin Van Draanen, Random House Children’s Books, New York, New York
J. A. White, HarperCollins Children’s Books, New York, New York
Christopher Lehman, Christopher Lehman Consulting, New York, New York
Kate Roberts, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, New York
Christopher Paul Curtis, Scholastic, Inc., New York, New York

After this session I’m presenting again in a research strand. I’m working with Luke Rodesiler, Meenoo Rami, Gary Anderson, Brian Kelley, and Cindy Minnich. We originally wrote the session to be an individual one, but NCTE changed it and made it part of a large research strand roundtable session. Here’s the information about the overall session and our roundtable.

D.42 Research Roundtable 3–Research about Teacher Education
Woodrow Wilson A

The roundtables in this session showcase research about teacher learning spanning the career. From pre-service education to professional development and beyond, the roundtables offer complex and varied studies centered on how teachers learn to teach for and across a range of contexts.

Roundtable 3: “It Makes My Practice Deeper”: Stories of Teachers’ Professionally-Oriented Participation Online
Luke Rodesiler, University of South Florida, Tampa
Sarah Andersen, Fenton Area Public Schools, Michigan
Meenoo Rami, Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Cindy Minnich, Upper Dauphin Area High School, Elizabethville, Pennsylvania
Brian Kelley, Patton Middle School, Pennsylvania
Gary Anderson, EMC Publishing, LLC, St. Paul, Minnesota

Luke interviewed each of us for his dissertation and together we wrote an article for the English Journal based on pieces of his dissertation. I greatly admire this group of teachers and am honored to present with them. Our group has much to offer, so I hope to see some of you at our roundtable if you’re attending NCTE. :)

This is going to be a great annual convention! I’d love to know if you’ll be attending as well, so let me know in the comments.

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!


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.

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