Join Kate DiCamillo in a Live National Webcast

I know I have some Kate DiCamillo fans who read my blog, which is why I’m excited to share this news from Candlewick Press with you. This is a great opportunity!

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Two Time Newbery Award Winner Kate DiCamillo in LIVE National Webcast October 15th

This fall marks the 10th Anniversary of the acclaimed Mercy Watson Series – a long time classroom favorite

FREE Online registration is available now, please visit for more details and to reserve your spot.

Mercy WatsonMercy Watson, the beloved early chapter-book series written by two-time Newbery Medal winner and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by award-winning artist Chris Van Dusen in his signature retro style, celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. The series, consisting of six fun-filled adventures illustrated in full color, concluded in 2009, but demand for the books continues to be strong: the series is now published in ten languages, and worldwide sales are now well over the two million copy mark.

The tongue-in-cheek tales, for readers age five to eight, star “porcine wonder” Mercy Watson, a delightfully single-minded pig, in her never-ending pursuit of treats, buttered toast, or just a rollicking fun time. When the series launched in 2005, Booklist’s starred review described the first adventure as “appropriate as both a picture book and a beginning reader,” while FamilyFunmagazine recommended the series as “a gentle transition from picture books.”

Tales from Deckawoo Drive, a spin-off series set in the Mercy Watson world and launched in 2014, is for readers age six to nine. It features longer chapters, more text, and fewer illustrations, done in black-and-white. The series debuted with Leroy Ninker Saddles Up, a New York Times bestseller and Amazon Best Book of the Year starring reformed thief-turned-cowboy Leroy and his more rusty than trusty steed, Maybelline. That kickoff adventure will be followed by Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon in August 2015, at which time Leroy Ninker Saddles Up will also be published in paperback.

About revisiting the Mercy Watson characters with slightly older readers in mind, Kate DiCamillo says, “I kept thinking about those Mercy Watson books and how much fun they were to write. I was looking for a way back into telling stories about Deckawoo Drive, and Leroy said, ‘Yippie-i-oh,’ and that seemed like a request to me.”

Join Kate for a virtual discussion of this beloved early chapter book series and the continuing stories of Deckawoo Drive with young readers on October 15th!

Tracy Miracle
Publicity & Marketing Campaigns Director
Candlewick Press – 99 Dover Street, Somerville  MA 02144

Francine Poulet

Banned Books Week, Jay Asher, and an Online Literary Hangout

Banned Books Week sneaked up on me this year, and for the first time in a couple years I don’t have a series of Banned Books Week posts ready. 🙁 Today kicks off the week, so I’m happy to at least acknowledge it with this opportunity that was brought to my attention last week.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is one of my favorite books and unfortunately it’s been banned and/or censored in the past. On Tuesday, September 24th at 3pm EST, Jay Asher will be joining Google+ and for Literary Google+ Hangouts On Air. During the hangout, participants can ask Jay questions directly and enter to win both Thirteen Reasons Why and The Future of Us.

I plan on telling my students about this since I have so many Thirteen Reasons Why fans. I’m sure it will be a fun event!


Skyping with Geoff Herbach

If you’re familiar with my blog, then you should know that I’m a huge Felton Reinstein fan.  Of all the books I’ve read, Felton is absolutely one of my favorite characters.  Every chance I get, I spread the Felton love and recommend Stupid Fast to readers/non-readers.  So it makes sense that I’m also a huge Geoff Herbach fan since he created Felton.

My Sophomore Seminar students have been writing and reading up a storm this school year, so I approached a few authors about sharing some of their advice on revision.  I approached Geoff about it, and he gave me three revised versions of the first page of I’m With Stupid, his final book in the Felton series.  Besides the fact that it’s awesome to be connected with such talented and generous authors, being provided with the opportunity to see the revision that took place just on that one page was really eye-opening for my students.  Thankfully Geoff accepted my request to Skype with my two Sophomore Seminar classes so we could discuss this.

First, I have to give Geoff major kudos.  He’s an hour behind us, and it was 8am our time when we started, but he woke up extra early so he could talk with my first and second hours.  And he was dealing with a malfunctioning furnace; I think he said it was around 52 degrees in his house at the moment. In February. In Minnesota.  He’s a trooper!

Anyway, both hours had a fantastic time talking with Geoff.  It was the perfect mix of serious questions about his books, his writing, revision, his life, funny stories, etc.  A couple students asked him questions about his covers which sparked an interesting discussion, and we also discussed how he came up with his titles.  Some of my aspiring authors asked him questions about getting started and how he works with his editor.  My students were really engaged and left class telling me that they want to read his books.  Mission accomplished.  Plus, each class ended on a goofy note.  My 1st hour was showing me some funny music video clips with goats while we waited to start our chat, so we had to show him the videos too.  One of my students has an iPad, so she put it in front of the camera and played it for him.  My second hour mentioned the Promethean board during our chat (it’s a long story how we reached that point), and one way or another it was decided to draw goofy faces around his face.  Geoff cracked us up while we did this; we even turned the camera around so he could see what my student was drawing.  We sent him pictures of course 🙂

Skype with Geoff 1 Skype with Geoff 2

I felt a little guilty using a class period to Skype with Geoff after having so many short weeks due to snow days, but this was an experience that many of my students absolutely loved and will probably remember long after this school year ends.  This is why I wish  more teachers embraced young adult literature.  Students can connect with YA authors online, through email, via Skype, etc.  My students can’t Skype with William Golding and ask him questions about Lord of the Flies.  My student isn’t going to receive a personalized bookmark with research help for a project from Harper Lee (in reference to the very awesome Sarah Darer Littman who sent a bookmark to one of my students who read Want to Go Private? for her research project about online predators).  I’m not saying we should abandon the classics, but including YA literature in our curriculum opens up a lot of doors for our students that the classics can’t.  If you ever get the opportunity to Skype with an author, I highly recommend you do so.  I’ve Skyped with a few authors and each experience has been rewarding for my students.

NCTE/ALAN 2012 Recap

It’s been a while since I’ve written a lengthy post, but preparing for NCTE/ALAN was a lot of work.  And then there was the convention itself.  It gets better every year I attend, so I can only imagine how awesome Boston will be next year!

It’s hard to decide where to start because the entire trip was fantastic.  If you haven’t attended NCTE or ALAN, I HIGHLY recommend you attend at least one of them, if not both.  Not only is it an excellent way to connect with other teachers, it’s also incredibly refreshing and rewarding.  I love my job, but teaching tends to be an isolating profession.  I know many of us collaborate on a regular basis in our buildings and online, but actually being able to attend a vast array of sessions and meet so many inspiring teachers is an entirely different experience.  There are literally hundreds of sessions to choose from that range in focus from elementary to college.  This year, most of them tied in with Common Core since it’s such a big issue in our profession.  I met more of my Twitter PLN in person, but I also made connections with other teachers as well.  It’s good to get out of the building and connect with teachers who share my passion for teaching.  It’s good to meet these teachers and learn from them and also learn that I’m not alone in what I’m doing in my classroom.

The “Nerdy Book Club” group at the ALAN cocktail party

I really wish I could physically spend more time with my Twitter PLN.  Seeing Jillian, Jenn, Lea, and others once a year simply doesn’t cut it.  Luckily, Beth and Brian live in Michigan so I get to see them more often at author signings and such.  We need to find a way to connect our group in the spring or summer so we don’t have to wait until November in Boston to see each other.

Post preso with Mindi, Jillian, and Danielle. (That’s a bright photo!)

I flew into Vegas late Thursday night, so I didn’t get to see anyone until breakfast Friday morning.  Jillian, Danielle, Mindi and I presented on Friday afternoon, so we met up for breakfast to chat and go over our presentation.  I’ve never met Danielle in person (@mymercurialmuse), so I’m happy we finally met!  She’s awesome and a passionate teacher.  Plus, our presentation was great!  We presented in a small room which was perfect, especially after seeing some presentations in the larger rooms which didn’t feel as inviting.  We started with a small group, but eventually it filled up to around 40 people.  We received some really positive feedback; some people even stopped us in the hall after to tell us how much they enjoyed our presentation!  I was nervous, but it ended up being really fun.  I hope to present more often in the future 🙂  If you’re interested, here’s the link to our presentation via SlideShare.

I finally met Geoff! 😀

I was a little more low key this year because I didn’t want to wear myself out like I did last year.  If there was a session I was interested in, I went, and if not, then I didn’t bother.  Thankfully the ones I attended were great.  Jenn and I went to a cool session which featured round table discussions about sports and literature.  Geoff Herbach, Matt de le Pena, and Matthew Quick were a few of the featured authors.  They had a chance to speak and then went to designated tables where teachers had topics and discussions planned for each table.  Jenn and I sat at Geoff’s table and gained so many lesson/writing ideas.  There were even extra handouts available from the other tables to take back to school!  At the end of the session there was the chance to propose a round table idea for next year.  Jenn and I wrote up a proposal for sports and bullying and we’re hoping Joshua C. Cohen will be able to join the session to discuss his debut, Leverage in relation to that topic.  **Fingers crossed it works out**

The exhibition floor was much better this year than last year.  It was open and all in one space which made it much easier to navigate.  I have one complaint, however, that I need to get out of the way before I continue.  I hope the people who organize NCTE read this because the exhibition floor policies need to change.  There is absolutely no reason for teachers to bring suitcases into the hall.  None.  Last year I saw a number of carry on size rolling suitcases, but this year teachers were filling up entire full size suitcases with books.  They take up too much space and get in the way. They were rolling over feet and bumping into people.  It was obnoxious.  And on top of that, the greedy teachers were embarrassing.  Just because books are free doesn’t mean all sense of professionalism should go out the door.  It’s embarrassing watching teachers interrupt conversations and run up to booths simply to grab a free book, especially when they don’t know anything about it.  I can’t stress enough the importance of connecting with the publishers.  They know which books are best for age levels and which books are parts of series and so on.  They’ll be more than happy to tell you about the books they’re excited about.  I came prepared with a specific list of books my students and I hoped to receive, and the only time I strayed from that list was when a publisher told me about a book he/she was excited about.  It’s not a race or a competition.  Most publishers were happy to take my information if a book I wanted wasn’t available so they could send me one later.  Or, you know, I’ll just buy a copy when it releases.

End of rant.

With Holly Cupala at the ALAN party

Happier exhibition memories.  HarperCollins brought Holly Cupala to NCTE which was SO EXCITING.  She is a stellar contemporary author and my girls in class love her books.  It was exciting meeting her on Friday (?) because I had just included her book, Tell Me a Secret in my presentation, and she was at the HarperCollins booth signing copies of that book and her newest novel, Don’t Breathe a Word.  They were giving the copies away for free, so I grabbed both to get signed since they’re both so popular.  When I was in line, I told her about one of my students who loved Don’t Breathe a Word so much, she hopes there’s a sequel.  I had Holly sign that copy for that student.  Holly remembered me because in the spring when some of my students were reading Tell Me a Secret for our To Kill a Mockingbird thematic unit, I tweeted her about their rave reviews.  The following day, Holly found me on the exhibit floor and took me out to lunch!  It was surprising and such an honor.  We had a fantastic time discussing her books, our lives, teaching, my students, etc.  It was really special and exciting.

One of the cool things about the exhibit floor and ALAN was the number of graphic novels available.  I have a big group of students who love graphic novels, so getting a few in my ALAN box and being able to buy a couple to get signed was pretty fantastic.  I was hoping for more LGBT novels as well which I ended up getting.  Actually, Jenn and I went to a wonderful session on LGBT issues in sports and at school and how to be an advocate and a safe person at school.  It was a powerful session and I’m really glad I went.  I also received some awesome resources with lists of books in YA that feature LGBT issues.  I have to say that the exhibitors were awesome again this year.  I can’t explain just how wonderful and patient they are.  It’s a crazy few days for them, but they kept their cool and handed out so many books.  I was amazed at how many free finished copies they provided this year.  HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster had free copies for almost all of the author signing books.  I already have copies of In Honor and If I Lie, but I couldn’t pass up free copies to get signed for my classroom, especially considering how much my students love those books.

With my convention buddies, Jenn and Jillian, at ALAN

ALAN is always on Monday and Tuesday, but it kicks off with the ALAN cocktail party on Sunday night.  That was a lot of fun since so many Twitter friends were there.  This year I spent most of the night hanging out with Jenn and Jillian.  Jenn and I spent a big chunk of the evening talking to Matthew Quick.  It was really cool talking to him about his teaching career and how he ended up becoming an author.  Even though I was exhausted and grouchy on Monday, ALAN started off great.  This year they featured way more author panels than last year.  It was really cool listening to so many authors, but I think last year’s amount was perfect.  I needed more of a break between the authors this year because it was hard sitting still for such a long time when I was so tired.  I will say that my ALAN box of books this year was way cooler than last year’s.  I never bash free books, but this box contained so many books that my students want to read.  I shipped it home, so hopefully it arrives soon so I can booktalk them at school.

At lunch with Trish Doller. Make sure you read Something Like Normal! 🙂

Another couple of author highlights feature Rae Carson and Trish Doller.  Martha Mihalik is Rae Carson’s editor at HarperCollins and she invited me and two other teachers (Paul Hankins and Daria Plumb) to have dinner with her and Rae.  We had dinner at Fiamma at MGM and it was pretty tasty.  Plus, Rae is really cool and laid back.  I already love her Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, but after meeting her I like it even more.  Getting to meet Martha was cool as well because she’s incredibly sweet.  If you don’t know of Daria Plumb, check out her site Get’em Reading!  She’s a fellow Michigan teacher.  I saw her present at MCTE a few years ago and was really impressed.  Now she’s pretty involved in ALAN and is a really cool person.  And if you don’t know Paul (@PaulWHankins), you should really start connecting with him because he’s wonderful and such a good teacher.

Trish is the talented author of the fantastic debut Something Like Normal.  She and I were trying to meet at ALAN and I knew I was going to miss her panel since it was during my flight home, so we made plans to get lunch on Sunday.  I invited her to have lunch at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant with me, Jillian, Jenn, Lea, Sherry, and Brian.  Even cooler?  She brought Corrine Jackson (author of If I Lie) with her!  I was so excited to finally meet her because I LOVE her book.  Getting lunch with them was so much fun, especially after hearing how they geek out about meeting teachers and other authors just like we do 🙂  Trish told us about her new book which made me want to read it even more than I already did.

I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but it was a full five days.  I made some fantastic connections and strengthened existing connections.  I brought home quite a few books, but they’re all books my students and I will read.  I met some authors and hung out with some too.  It was an experience I won’t soon forget, and one I hope will be even better next year in Boston!

Keith was able to pack all of my NCTE books so I didn’t have to ship them. Alice is excited about all of our upcoming reading 🙂

Our Ellen Hopkins School Visit

Ellen Hopkins visited our school today!  In September she held a contest for teachers and librarians to enter to win a free visit during Teen Read Week.  Our school was one of four that won a free author visit.  Unfortunately our visit had to be rescheduled due to flight cancellations and issues, so she made time to visit us yesterday (Nov. 5th).  As part of the contest we had to have books available for the students to buy and provide her with two hours of speaking time.  The amazing Schuler Books and Music in East Lansing provided books for our students to buy.  We broke up Ellen’s visit into two one hour presentations so she could reach more students.

Ellen ended up getting to school earlier than she expected, so she hung out in my classroom during my 2nd hour.  The kids were star struck!  She listened to me finish reading a chapter of Unwholly out loud and then told us about her friendship with the author, Neal Shusterman.  She commented on the student-made poster on the wall for Michelle Hodkin’s debut The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.  She told the class about Michelle and how she helped Michelle work on the sequel, The Evolution of Mara Dyer.  Talk about cool!  We also found out that Heather Brewer’s (the author of the Vladimir Todd series) husband is from Clio (the town where our school is located).  Small world, right?!  She took some time to answer my students’ questions and talk to them about the books they’re reading.

Before the presentations, Ellen offered to hang out outside the cafeteria so students could meet her, buy some books, and chat with her in general.  Some of them were nervous to approach her (so cute!), so I nudged them over.  I had a sub in my room at the time who I asked to bring my class down to meet Ellen.  We took some pictures, had books and bookmarks signed, etc.  She offered some writing advice to some of my aspiring authors, too.

Ellen’s presentation was fantastic!  She took time to tell the students about her life growing up, her life as an author, and the inspiration for her books.  The kids loved learning more about her daughter who inspired Kristina’s character in Crank.  Her books have inspired and helped so many of my students, so I know her presentation really resonated with them.  She did get some boos when she told us what a big SF Giants fan she is! 😉  One of my favorite parts of her presentation was how much she stressed that students can be successful writers and make a living.  I really hope the aspiring authors in the room heard her say that.

We had a number of students pre-order books to make sure they received the book(s) they really wanted.  I was amazed how many more students came up to the stage after the presentation to buy a book or two.  Some asked to take a picture with her, which of course Ellen did, and some who didn’t buy books received a bookmark from Ellen which she signed and personalized.  I’m pretty sure Schulers ordered 175 copies of Ellen’s books and that there were only about 50 or 60 left at the end of the day!

**Side note–Ellen signed all of the extra copies, so if you’d like a signed copy of one of her books stop by your local Michigan Schuler Books and Music to get one! 🙂 **

The day was wonderful.  The students were excited and engaged and pretty much everything went smoothly and according to plan.  I couldn’t be more thankful for Ellen and her books; it’s so generous that she did this for us and a few other schools.  A huge THANK YOU, Ellen, from me and the rest of the staff and students; we were thrilled to meet you!

Chat With Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl!

I’m a BIG fan of the Beautiful Creatures series, so I was just  *tad* excited when I was told about Little, Brown’s “Live at the Lounge” series.  Little, Brown is arranging a series of author chats which will allow readers to ask the authors questions about their books and chat with them live.  The series is kicking off with Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl who will be discussing their Beautiful Creatures series.  I hope they get to talk about the upcoming movie!

The live chat starts Tuesday, October 30th at 8pm EST/ 5pm PST.  Click here so you can RSVP online. You can also check out the other authors who are participating in the series.

Exciting, right?!

What About the Teen Readers?

It’s been a fiery couple of weeks since ALA ended and posts and conversations about the conference and ARCs started popping up all over the web and Twitter.  I’m not here to blog about that because I think that topic has been beaten to death, and I really don’t have anything to add.  My primary concern from everything that has been brought up is this: What are bloggers (teachers, librarians, book sellers, enthusiastic readers, etc) doing to target TEENS?  I put TEENS in caps because isn’t that the intended YA audience?  I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but it’s safe to assume that YA authors are writing their books for TEENS.

This thought woke me up this morning, so I know I need to write about it.  As a teacher, I’m reading YA because it helps me connect with my students and build a community of readers in my classroom and in my school.  I know other teachers do this as well, as do librarians.  As a teacher and blogger I’m writing about the books I read so my students can keep up with and learn more about the books I’m reading, but also to help other teachers and librarians find books to read and then offer to their students or patrons.  I blog for myself and my students first, but when I did a readership poll I discovered that much more of my readers are teachers and librarians than I originally thought.  Even though my blog is appealing to a specific group of people, my blog isn’t that different when it comes to who it appeals to than, say, a blog written by an adult avid YA reader.  Many of us know and realize that adults are reading our blogs.  Isn’t it kind of funny that we might have more adults reading about the YA books we’re reading than TEENS?

If anything’s been learned these past two weeks, it’s that bloggers are a passionate group of people.  We love books.  We love discussing and promoting books.  We love connecting with authors.  All good things, right?  But again, this is a large group of adults.  I know of some teen YA bloggers, and I certainly want to know about more (share if you follow some great TEEN bloggers!), but I know of more adult bloggers than anything else.  I see more adults at author events than TEENS.  So what can a bunch of passionate YA bloggers do to connect all of these awesome books with TEENS?

The fact that I don’t know about more TEEN bloggers makes me wonder if it’s because many of them simply aren’t thinking about book blogging.  Or using their time on the Internet for that.  I polled my students last year about what they like to read and how they find out about new books, and not one mentioned looking up reviews online or reading blogs.  This surprised me, especially since all of them know what blogging is and that there are other people out there who blog about books besides me.  When I saw this last year, it really gave me pause because I don’t think I have some abnormal group of students who would answer that way on a survey.  I really don’t think that many TEENS are reading blogs and finding books that way.  Sure, they might Google something and find our blogs, and that’s great, but what can we do to bring more TEENS to our blogs?  Or better yet, how can we connect with more TEENS?

For a teacher or librarian this is easy because we work with them every day.  We have trusting relationships with our TEENS and know what recommendations to make.  How can all of us in this passionate group go beyond our adult readership and target the TEENS that YA is aimed at?  I know of many readers and bloggers who donate their books to libraries and schools.  Yay! you, I say!  But because I’m a teacher, I then think, what will happen to those books in a school library without a librarian?  If you know anything about the state of education right now, then you should know that librarians have been cut first.  A book in a library without a librarian to promote it isn’t reaching its full potential.  A book in a classroom with a teacher who isn’t staying current and reading YA isn’t reaching its full potential.  Should those books still be there for students who will find it regardless?  Yes!  But I wonder if more bloggers could find a way to volunteer at their local school libraries or public libraries to help promote the books they read and donate, especially in school libraries lacking a librarian.  Could they find a way to set up some kind of program?

What about bloggers who are booksellers or who have solid working relationships with publishers and/or authors?  Could those bloggers find ways to help bring authors to their town/school/library for TEENS to meet?  What can booksellers do to get the word out to TEENS when YA authors are coming to their store?  Since many of the indies around me are an hour or more away, I’d love advanced notice when a YA author is coming to one of their stores so I can use that extra time to arrange for some of my students to find a way there.  I work in a district where money is tight, and traveling an hour or more isn’t always an option for my students.

I know of many fantastic YA TEEN conventions, but all of them seem to be on the west coast, in New York, or in Texas.  About that.  How can we bring these TEEN events to more areas?  Is that something bloggers can work on together?

Maybe this is a lofty post, but as a literacy advocate and teacher, I can’t help but think about TEENS first.  All of us are reading because we love it, so doesn’t it make sense that we help spread that love specifically to the target audience?

Book Trailer Thursday (69)–Of Poseidon by Anna Banks

I posted my review for Of Poseidon by Anna Banks yesterday, so I decided to feature the book trailer today.  I didn’t know there was a book trailer for her book until I went to the Fierce Reads author event and each book trailer was shown to introduce its author.  The event started with a Fierce Reads Tour trailer, so I’m featuring that as well today 🙂  Enjoy!

Here’s the tour trailer to start:


Summary (From Goodreads): Galen, a Syrena prince, searches land for a girl he’s heard can communicate with fish. It’s while Emma is on vacation at the beach that she meets Galen. Although their connection is immediate and powerful, Galen’s not fully convinced that Emma’s the one he’s been  looking for. That is, until a deadly encounter with a shark proves  that Emma and her Gift may be the only thing that can save his kingdom. He needs her help–no matter what the risk.


Book Trailer Thursday (68)–Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

A couple factors prompted my choice in book trailers today.  First, I’ve decided to include Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo in my Young Adult Lit II fantasy unit.  Second, I’m going to the Fierce Reads tour stop on Friday at Schuler Books and Music in Lansing!  If you live in Michigan or nearby and want to attend here’s the information:

Location: Schuler Books and Music
2820 Towne Center Blvd.
Lansing, MI 48912

Time: 6:00pm

Authors: Anna Banks (Of Poseidon), Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone), Jennifer Bosworth (Struck), Emmy Laybourne (Monument 14)

Schuler Books is a fantastic indie bookseller, and they’ve put on some great author events.  I’m really looking forward to this tour because I don’t know much about Monument 14 or Of Poseidon.  Plus, I’m excited to meet Leigh Bardugo and tell her that I’m using her book in my class! 🙂

Summary (From Goodreads): Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

NCTE/ALAN 2011 Recap

From November 18th-21st I was in Chicago for the NCTE/ALAN Annual Convention.  I ended up going by myself again this year, but unlike last year, I stayed longer and had friends to hang out with the entire time.  It was an exhausting weekend because we were constantly busy going here, there, and everywhere, but it was completely worth it.  And did you know that lugging around 20 lbs of books really wears you out? Who knew?! 🙂

Jillian (@heisereads) and I met in real life (!) for breakfast Friday morning and went to most of the same sessions.  My first session was about using graphic novels in the classroom.  It was a fantastic way to start the day because all of the presenters brought great information to the table.  One of the presenters told us about how she uses Post-it Note Diaries by Arthur Jones as an introduction to teaching the personal essay.  You can find their handouts and presentation information on the NCTE Annual Convention website.  Actually, all of the presenters were encouraged to upload their materials to the website for those who couldn’t attend certain sessions and those who couldn’t attend the conference.  Anyway, I’ve been interested in reading more graphic novels and after this session I can’t wait to find ways to use them in my classroom.

Part of my first haul of books!

Jillian and I went to the second session together, but we ended up disappointed and left.  It was about bullying but the presenter came off as arrogant and most of what she said I disagreed with.  Jillian and I decided to head down to the exhibit hall, aka the dungeon, to get in line for the John Green signing.  Unfortunately he wasn’t signing ARCs of his newest book, but we did get a chapter sample.  The exhibits were crazy when they first opened!  I have to admit that I was embarrassed for some of the teachers there.  While we waited to be let in, there was a group of teachers standing in front of us with suitcases on wheels and game planning over how to get the most books.  I completely understand being excited about free/cheaper books, but these teachers ran into the exhibit hall and bombarded the booths.  I heard teachers walking up to people working the booths and asking them what they had for free.  Really?!  Jillian and I took our time talking with the editors, publicists, marketing team, etc to find out which books were their favorites and which books they recommend for our students.  It was an excellent way to find out about new books and we formed some relationships in the process.  And you know what?  The people we spoke with were more likely to offer us books after talking with us.  So yes, some of the teachers surprised me, but most of them were doing exactly the same thing as we did.

After lunch and taking some time to rest our shoulders after lugging around 15+ books each, we went to a session on teaching grammar better.  I was exhausted by this point and couldn’t retain that much information anymore.  I was happy to attend the session, though, because they had a PowerPoint prepared that we can use with out students and they also had some good ideas on making grammar more relevant for our students.  I even sent my department head a text letting her know about the session because so many of the teachers in my department are concerned with teaching grammar.

Me, S.J. Kincaid & Jillian

Friday night ended on a high note when Jillian and I went out to dinner with HarperCollins editor Molly O’Neill and upcoming debut author S.J. (Shelley) Kincaid.  Shelley’s debut novel, Insignia, releases in July, but we were fortunate enough to get an ARC before the conference.  If you work with teenage boys, make sure you get this book.  I know some girls will enjoy it, but I can’t wait to hand this novel to my reluctant boys and my sci-fi fans.  It’s full of action and humor and just a fun read (my review will be posted soon).  Molly also invited Becky Anderson of Anderson’s Bookshops and Becky’s daughter.  I’ve only heard great things about Becky’s stores, so it was really cool getting to meet and connect with her.  Shelley is wonderful and really intelligent.  After spending some time with her at dinner, I’m really looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.

I attended my first ALAN breakfast on Saturday morning.  I met more of my Twitter friends like Jen (@mentortexts), Kellee (@kellemoye), Mindi (@mindi_r) and so many more.  It was really cool meeting everyone for the first time!  The breakfast itself was a cool experience and I really enjoyed listening to Sharon Draper speak.  The best part of her speech was talking about how our life is our dash and we need to fill it with great stories.  What a wonderful way of looking at life.  Jilllian and I were constant buddies during the convention, so we perused the exhibits and met some authors during signings.  I met Laurie Halse Anderson and now have a signed copy of Speak (squee!).  My favorite session of the day was on writing and revision.  Four teachers presented their teaching writing and revising strategies.  One of the teachers uses NaNoWriMo in her classroom.  The way she does this is so cool and something I’d love to try.  Another teacher is using writing mini-lessons for different paper assignments and has stopped using letter grades.  She has a rubric for her students and grades them on Exceeding Expectations, Meeting Expectations, and Needs Improvement.  The students have pieces to work on according to different rubrics and are graded on their improvement during the trimester.  This way of teaching sounds like something I could adapt in my classroom, so I’m excited to check out her resources.  For information on using NaNoWriMo in your classroom check out her website:  If you want to learn more about eliminating letter grades and refocusing on writing as a process, check out her website:

Sara Zarr!

Saturday night was tons of fun because we had a Twitter friends dinner at Carnivale.  The food and drinks were delicious and the restaurant is bright and vibrant.  I was sitting at the end of the table with Katherine (@katsok), Cindy (@CBethM), Lea (@leakelley) and Chris (@ckervina).  At the other end of the table was Jillian, Aly (@alybee930), Cathy (@Cathy_Blackler), Mindi (@mindi_r) and Jillian.  The conversations were great and so was the experience in general.  I really miss my Twitter friends.

Picture from Jen's blog--Jillian, Jen & Me

Sunday and Monday were simply awesome.  There weren’t that many sessions on Sunday, but I did go to a good one about using YA in a traditional curriculum.  Some of the titles were outdated, but the ideas on discussing themes were very cool.  One of the presenters discussed the idea of using theory and heuristics. They also said their handouts would be on the convention website.  The best part of Sunday was the ALAN cocktail party.  I geeked out over so many authors!  I met Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins, M.T. Anderson (because after meeting John Green & telling him a story of how his books and M.T. Anderson’s books hooked one of my boys John took me to meet him and tell him the story), and so many others!  I had a chance to talk with A.S. King which was awesome after how she and I have connected since I read and reviewed Everybody Sees the Ants.   The Twitter group met up with Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) and Teresa (@rdngteach) there as well.  Donalyn has no fear and helped us get the courage to approach some of the authors.  Heidi (@hmz1505), a librarian and blogger, spent a lot of time hanging out with us as well.  All of us had fangirly moments over different authors 🙂

A.S. King!!

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the entire ALAN portion of the convention.  I was there most of the day on Monday, but I had to head home since we had finals going on for the end of the trimester.  Listening to Matt de la Pena, Chris Crutcher, Sarah Dessen, and so many other authors speak was inspiring.  Our entire Twitter row was tweeting what the authors said like crazy.  Matt de la Pena was probably my favorite speaker of the day.  Besides the fact that he’s eloquent and thoughtful, he represents so many of our reluctant readers.  I’m really bummed that I missed Laurie Halse Anderson’s presentation.  I will admit that I was happy to return home because I missed Keith, my small cats, and I was exhausted.

Overall, I can’t encourage teachers enough to attend this conference in the future.  Next year it’s going to be in Las Vegas, so I’ll start saving after Christmas.  It’s the perfect way to connect with authors and other teachers.  It’s also an excellent way to learn from other teachers.  What I liked most about the sessions is how excited the teachers were to share with us; so many told us to email them with any questions.  I loved meeting my Twitter friends and I can’t wait to meet up again! 😀

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