First Marking Period Favorites

We’re nearing the end of our first marking period (how did that happen?!), so I decided to make a list of the books my students have been reading the most. I have four sections of seniors (with class sizes around 34) and one class of sophomores (35 students).

My seniors in particular have been voracious readers. It’s been exciting watching them recommend and share books during class. Some of my sophomores have even come into class looking for particular books because they heard seniors talking about them. I hope all of this continues throughout the school year!

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga: This is one of the most popular books among my seniors right now. Our media specialist ordered three copies to try and keep up with the demand. She also ordered some copies of Game (the sequel) since it’s being read so much.

Divergent by Veronica Roth: This title started off pretty popular but once I came in with my copy of Allegiant and told them my reaction to it, my waiting list for Divergent grew even more.

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak: I never expected this to be so popular but after one of my seniors walked into class saying that it changed his life, interest was immediately sparked.

Lessons From a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles: A couple of my senior girls picked this one up, but after I recommended it during Banned Books Week, even more students wanted to read it. Jumping Off Swings has been equally popular.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake: I love how popular this book has become this year. One of my seniors just recommended it to another student in class and pointed out the Kirkus review blurb (“Stephen King ought to start looking over his shoulder.”) on the Girl of Nightmares cover.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Nothing about the popularity of this title surprises me. 🙂

Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick: My sophomores are loving this book right now.

In Honor by Jessi Kirby: I added this title to my road trip book display a few weeks ago and watched it become a big hit. I’m glad I have three copies of it because my senior girls LOVE it.

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr: I’ve noticed that a few of the books that aren’t my favorites (Shut Out by Kody Keplinger, Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen) are often my girls’ favorites. Sweethearts was good, but I didn’t love it. My senior girls adore it. I think it’s been read by five or six girls already. Once they finish it, they usually pick up Story of a Girl or How to Save a Life.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott: I book talked this during Banned Books Week and all five of my copies were borrowed by my sophomores.

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller: A couple of my senior boys read this at the beginning of the year (One was put off by the cover and felt awkward about it so we discussed it as a class) and enjoyed it. A couple of my senior and sophomore girls have read it now as well.

Eon by Alison Goodman: Eon has been read by a group of senior boys in one of my classes. In this class I have a large group of fantasy lovers and they’ve been passing books to each other as they finish them and move on in each series. So far they’ve been reading the Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld series, The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima series, and this one.

Ellen Hopkins and John Green: Pretty much all of the books by both authors have been huge hits this marking period.

Dead to You by Lisa McMann: My mystery fans have been all over this book. I have three copies and haven’t seen any of them for a while.

More Popular Titles:

  • The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
  • A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger
  • Every Day by David Levithan
  • You by Charles Benoit
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  • Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen
  • Boy Toy by Barry Lyga
  • Things I Can’t Forget by Miranda Kenneally



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!


Banned Books Week: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Banned Book: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: Banned in the Stockton, Mo. School District (2010) because of violence, language, and some sexual content. Retained in the Helena, Mont. School District (2011) despite a parent’s objection that the book contained “obscene, vulgar and pornographic
language.” This New York Times bestseller won the National Book Award in 2007 in the “Young People’s Literature” category. (Source–Quote taken from the ALA banned books resource page.)

My Thoughts: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a spectacular book that’s full of heart.  Yes, there’s violence, poor language, and a brief piece of sexual content, but Junior is a dynamic character that readers can learn from.  The violence stems from racism, both on and off the reservation.  Junior values his education, but making the choice to attend school off the reservation is a tough one because it makes him look disloyal and like a traitor.  It’s hard for his family, friends, and community to understand his motivation.  Watching Junior acclimate to his new environment at the new school is at times heartwarming and heartbreaking, but it’s ultimately hopeful.  This book is so much more than violence, poor language, and sexual content.

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you do.  We added it to our freshman curriculum last year which turned out to be a huge success.  It was so popular, we had to order more copies to appease our students.  And it really helped our students connect with To Kill a Mockingbird.

Student Response: This quote comes from one of my seniors, Austin.  “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is banned for several reasons including sexual content and plain truth about school.  I think it shouldn’t be banned because we say and think way worse things than what’s in that book.”

Banned Books Week: Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

Banned Book: Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “Retained at the Bangor, Pa. Area Middle School (2007) despite a student’s aunt’s concerns about the book’s depiction of school violence. Source: Mar. 2008, p. 79.” (Source–Quote taken from the ALA banned books resource page)

My Thoughts: Give a Boy a Gun has been part of our sophomore English curriculum since I started teaching at Clio six years ago.  It’s also one of the most successful and engaging units we teach.  Todd Strasser hits many big issues like bullying, violent video games, troubles at home, etc. that students have no choice but to speak up and discuss what they’re reading.  Almost every time we read this book in class I end up hearing from my most introverted students.  It’s a powerful moment when so many students in class are buzzing and engaged and asking to have a discussion.

The story is violent, so I understand concerns about reading Give a Boy a Gun.  My bigger concern is the rising number of violent acts in schools.  They’ve escalated so much we’re now seeing news coverage of shootings near popular tourist attractions and on college campuses.  Todd Strasser makes some valid points in his book in a number of ways.  He includes information he found while researching as footnotes in the story.  He also has the book set up from varying points of view so readers can get a full perspective.  The teachable moments in this book are plentiful, so I hope teachers, librarians, and parents will take it upon themselves to read it and share it.  It’s certainly a book worth discussing.

Student Response: This response comes from one of my YA Lit students and aspiring author, Noah.

“I’m not surprised, but I still think it shouldn’t be banned.  We hear real life stories like this book all the time.  It won’t convince any kid to perform a school shooting and it tells what some kids went through.”

Banned Books Week: Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Banned Book: Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “The Blue Springs (Mo.) School District has removed Nina LaCour’s young adult novel Hold Still from its library and classrooms in response to parental complaints about its language and sex scenes.”  (Source–Quote taken from an American Libraries article.)

My Thoughts: When this story first came to light last November I was shocked.  At the time there was a video news report available (which I can’t find now…) interviewing the parents and the pastor involved with censoring Hold Still.  The part that upsets me the most is that a pastor was brought into the mix.  There is this whole separation of church and state thing, right?

Anyway, I agree that parents have a right to say what is right or wrong for their child, so kudos to them for being involved.  Going to the school and requesting that the book is removed and made unavailable to ALL students is not their right.

Hold Still is a beautiful book dealing with a heavy topic.  No one wants to lose their best friend, so can you imagine losing your best friend to suicide and not knowing why?  Caitlin is devastated by the loss of her best friend, Ingrid, and is barely hanging on.  She ends up finding a journal Ingrid wrote for Caitlin to find which sheds light on Ingrid’s dark world.  Hold Still takes us on Caitlin’s journey to finding hope and light and new friendship in the midst of her best friend’s suicide.  It’s one of the most popular books in my classroom because the (typically) girls who read it empathize and connect with the characters.

If you’re a teacher or librarian, I urge you to read Nina LaCour’s debut and make your own decision.  I have two copies in my room and both are nearing the point of replacement because they’ve been read so much.  Our students know when and how to self-censor, so we really need to trust their choices.  If you’re a parent, I urge you to read this book with your son or daughter so you can have an open and honest discussion about it.

Sarah @ GreenBeanTeenQueen wrote an excellent post about this when it first came to light.  Read why she supports Hold Still.

Student Response: Felicia, one of my current YA Lit students and one of my former freshmen students, read Hold Still last year.  I knew she enjoyed Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, so I suggested this as her first SSR book.  I remember her telling me she didn’t know if she liked it, so I suggested trying to stick with it for 50 or so pages before she abandoned it.  She ended up loving it and became a voracious reader last year.

Hold Still should not be a banned book.  This book is very real and tells a story that could really happen in your high school years.  This book just tells a story of your typical high school girl who commits suicide.  This is a very good book and shouldn’t be banned.”

Top Ten Tuesday: Posts That Describe Me Best

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday post is fun because it prompts us to choose ten posts that describe us best and that we wish all readers (and potential readers) would read.  I hope this post helps you get to know me as a teacher and reader! 🙂

1. The importance of creating a classroom library was instilled by the best professor I’ve ever had, Dr. Susan Steffel.  After some requests from a few Twitter followers, I wrote a post on how to create and manage a classroom library based on what I’ve been doing for the past five years that I’ve been teaching.  I’m crazy passionate about my class library and adding to it on a regular basis, so I hope you gain something from that post!

2. Besides being known by students for all the books I read, they also know that I read to them every day at the beginning of the hour.  Again, I learned this practice from Dr. Steffel.  Reading out loud to my students is one of my favorite things to do, especially when we get to the good parts in a book or when a chapter ends with a cliffhanger; their reactions are priceless.  I’ve had some major successes with books and some major hiccups, so I put together a list of my favorite books to read aloud to my high school students.

3. I love to find out what my students think about books/reading/covers/etc. so I try to poll them on different topics a few times throughout the year.  One survey that my students really liked was this one about their opinions on book covers.  I found out that they have strong opinions about book covers and could discuss them for a lengthy period of time.

Dr. Steffel and me at NCTE 2011

4. Censorship and book banning tends to get me fired up, so every year I put together a Banned Books Week display in my classroom.  During that week I devote my blog to posting about different books on the list.  I include where/why they were banned, my thoughts about it, and I also include what my students think.  I teach a YA Lit class and one of the most popular project choices is the banned books project.  Unfortunately, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler has been banned, but fortunately it’s one of the most popular books in my classroom.

5. Another part of my  YA Lit class is requiring my students to write book reviews for a couple of the books they read for their project.  Within the last year or so I’ve started posting their book reviews on my blog.  This is an example of a student book review that I loved.

6. My students and I love book trailers, so every Thursday I feature a book trailer or two on my blog.  This is one of my students’ favorite book trailers, especially since I read this book to my YA Lit students.  Every other day they’d make me show the trailer again to see if they understood another part of the trailer based on what we read.

7. I love verse novels.  Every time I find out about a new one, I have to get my hands on it.  Here’s a list of a few verse novels I recommend reading.

8. Starting this blog and reading other blogs has opened me up to so many books I probably would have never known about or thought about reading.  A past Top Ten Tuesday post prompted us to write about books we’ve read because of other bloggers.  Keep the recommendations coming, bloggers and readers!

9. Finding great books with guy appeal is really important to me because I’ve found that it’s usually harder to get my reluctant male students to read than it is getting my reluctant female students to read.  Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach is one of my all-time favorite books with guy appeal.

10. This book surprised me and moved me to the point that it’s one of my absolute favorites.  I really need to get a signed copy of it one of these days…

Trimester One Freshmen Reading Survey

Every trimester I like to poll my students about reading, whether it’s the types of books they like to read or about their reading experiences in general.  Because so many of my freshmen told me at the beginning of the trimester that they dislike reading, I wanted to find out how they feel about reading after a trimester of SSR, book talks, reading suggestions, etc.  I’ve learned quite a bit from these surveys, and I hope this is helpful for my readers as well!  Is anything surprising or reassuring?  Do you have any suggestions to help reduce the percentage of “Maybes” in number 7?

1.  Before this year, did you consider yourself a reader?


2.  If you didn’t enjoy reading before this year, please explain why.  (I’m including some of their responses.)

“I never found the right books.” –Felicia (read more than 10 books)
“I’m a slow reader and I can’t find books that I like.” –Trista (read 4 books)
“I thought it was a waste of time.” –Heidi (read 8 books)
“Felt it was boring and pointless.” –Mackenzie (read 7 books)
“Too boring–I’d rather watch the movie.” –Kyle (read 2 books)
“Every time we had to read it was for a grade and forced.” –Jimmy (read 2 books)
“I was forced to.”  -Christian (read 8 books)

3.  What was your favorite book this trimester?  Why?

“Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake because it kept me gripped to the story and I haven’t read a book like that in a while.”  –Tom
Bruiser by Neal Shusterman because it’s interesting and different.” –Ariana
Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen because  I didn’t want to put it down.” –Natalie
“I like the book Trapped by Michael Northrop because it’s suspenseful.” –Tito
“The Crank trilogy by Ellen Hopkins because Kristina’s life is interesting.” –Sierra
“I’m torn between The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.” –Michael

Some other favorites named: Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, Party by Tom Leveen, The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner, Scars by Cheryl Rainfield, Hold Still by Nina LaCour, Purple Heart by Patricia McCormick, The Maze Runner by James Dashner, Enclave by Ann Aguirre

4.  What was your least favorite book this trimester?  Why?

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk was good, but I’ve read a lot better ones this trimester.” –Jamal
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson because the ending was dumb.” –Mike (Quite a few of my boys said the same thing.)
Grace by Elizabeth Scott because it was confusing.” –Jessica

17 of my students said they didn’t have a least favorite 🙂

5.  How many books have you read this trimester?

1-3 books– 16 students
4-6 books– 12 students
7-10 books– 7 students
10+– 3 students

6.  What type of book(s) do you enjoy reading the most? (Students were allowed to pick more than one.)

Realistic Fiction– 37%
Fantasy– 14%
Paranormal Fantasy– 20%
Dystopian– 12%
Historical Fiction– 5%
Science Fiction– 6%
Other– 6% (graphic novels, biographies, etc.)

7.  Will you continue reading after this class, even if you have a different English 9 teacher?

Yes– 63%
No– 8%
Maybe– 29%

8. What can teachers do to get their students interested in reading?

“Give them a lot of time to read in class.” –Tom
“Figure out what kind of books students like to read and suggest some to them.” –Katie
“Create more projects for students like creating a book trailer or novel soundtrack.” –Mia
“Show book trailers, have a class library, read to us, and have SSR.” –Natalie
“Talk about books they’ve read and give book talks.” –Heidi
“Use banned books!” –Mackenzie
“Don’t force us to read, just let us choose if we want to read or not.  Get newer books and set reading goals.” –Madi
“Just don’t make their kids read, they will eventually read.” –Ellis
“Show book trailers, explain the book, give a book to a student to read that they know they might like.” –Michael
“Have a variety of books for both boys and girls.” –Thomas
“Don’t make us read, but encourage us.  Let us choose to read and choose what we read.” –Jacob
“Have a book pass so we can sample books.” –Corey

Banned Books Week: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

This is my last post for Banned Books Week this year.  Reminder: I’m also hosting a banned books giveaway, so I hope you’ll check it out and enter to win a banned book of your choice (ends Saturday).

Banned Book: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “The Belleville, Wis. School Board (2011) decided to keep a book that’s required reading for high school freshmen in the curriculum despite a parent’s complaint that the book was “pornography” and its language was “pervasively vulgar.” Published in 1993, the novel has been read by ninth-grade students at Belleville High School for eight years. The book deals with topics of abortion, sexuality, and the power of religion.” (Source–Quote taken from ALA banned books resource page)

My Thoughts: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is another staple in YA literature.  In my About Me page I mention the Young Adult Lit course I took during my undergrad at Central Michigan with Dr. Steffel.  This is one of the novels Dr. Steffel required us to read; it’s also one of my favorites from that class.  I haven’t read Crutcher’s book since the summer I took that course, but I still remember it well because it’s a powerful story.

Do some of the characters swear in the novel?  Yes.  I had a discussion with my freshmen the other day about the use of “vulgar language” in novels.  I was impressed when a majority of them said that they can tell when an author is using that language purposefully and when it seems like it’s thrown in for no reason at all.  They understood that different characters speak different ways, so some may swear when others won’t, just like real life teenagers.  The claim that Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is pornography is outrageous.  There simply isn’t anything pornagraphic in the novel.  The characters are in a class where big issues are discussed and debated, so topics like abortion and sexuality do come up and fit with the story.

In my opinion, if you’re a teacher or librarian, it would serve you well to have a copy of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes in your library.  Everything about this novel is purposeful and well-meaning.  When I think about this book I think of the power of friendship, overcoming abuse and stereotypes, and self-esteem, just to name a few.  Chris Crutcher is a master storyteller and Staying Fat for Sarah Brynes is one of the best examples of his craft.

Student Response: Kayla, one of my Young Adult Lit students, is focusing her trimester project on Chris Crutcher so she recently read Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.  “If Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes was banned it would be upsetting.  It was a very good book; I could barely put it down.  I think this book being banned takes away the opportunity for a good book to be read, but also for people to learn about what happens in this kind of relationships.  I loved it.”

Banned Books Week: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

It’s Banned Books Week so I’m highlighting a different banned book each day this week.  My posts will include the banned book, where/why it’s been banned (or challenged), my opinion, and a student’s opinion.  I’m also hosting a banned books giveaway, so I hope you’ll check it out and enter to win a banned book of your choice.

Banned Book: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Where/Why It’s Been Banned: “Removed from a spring break elective course at the Bedford, N.H. School District (2010) after a parent complained about the novel’s sexual content. The complainant further suggested that the school only allow “youth versions” of particular books or organize a parental review system over the summer that would look at books that students need parental permission to read. A checklist has been proposed that Bedford school officials would use to rate books and other instructional materials.” (Source–Quote taken from ALA banned books resource page)

My Thoughts: I chose to highlight this book first for a couple reasons.  First, I didn’t know until a couple days ago when I was getting these posts ready that Water for Elephants had been banned.  Second, this book wasn’t published as a YA novel.  I read it this past spring after one of my high school students handed me her copy and told me I had to read it.  I was surprised by the mature, sexual scenes but that’s because I’ve been reading YA almost exclusively and had to remind myself that this novel wasn’t published YA.  It did make me wonder what my student thought of those scenes, which we discussed when I gave her book back at the end of spring break.

Despite the maturity of the novel, there are quite a few positive messages in the novel which I think outweigh those scenes.  Jacob, the main character, suddenly becomes an orphan just as he’s about to graduate from college and become a veterinarian.  As a last resort he hops a circus train and is thrown into a bizarre and often dangerous life.  Water for Elephants is historical fiction and Sara Gruen did a wonderful job researching the time period and the circus culture when writing her novel.  Her story focuses on Jacob and how he learns to survive this new life, but also how he shows compassion for both people and animals, learns to stand up for himself, and finds his first love.

I have a copy of this book in my classroom library, because I know my mature readers will enjoy it.  I made sure to buy a copy with the original cover (the movie cover has Robert Pattison and Reese Witherspoon) because I think my boys in class will be more likely to pick it up than they would if I had the movie cover edition.  If you’re looking for a rationale for Water for Elephants, it’s listed as a Scholastic Reading Counts book **side note: I’m not an advocate of boxed reading programs like this, but I know many schools use them.** and it’s a 2007 Alex Award winner.  The Alex Award is given to books that are written for adults but appeal to teen readers.

Student Response: This quote is from Tristan, my student who let me borrow her copy over spring break.  “The book is an adult book to begin with, so why would the author have to worry about sexual content? As far as having it in a high school, I think that teens can handle it. And if a parent has a problem, THEN THEY DON’T NEED TO LET THEIR CHILD READ IT!  But they don’t need to drag other students into it. I do agree this book does contain a lot of sexual content, so I wouldn’t want my middle school sister reading this. But teens can handle it, and parents shouldn’t be naive enough to think this isn’t something their children are oblivious about.”

Banned Books Week Giveaway

Banned Books Week has officially started, so I’m bringing back my week of posts about banned books.  I always put up a display in my classroom during this week so I can discuss censorship with my students.  It’s an excellent time to talk about how they feel about books, what they find questionable, and how we should deal with censorship in our school.  I also have a banned books project choice in my Young Adult Lit class that involves my students reading and researching banned books before putting together a presentation about those books and whether they agree with the action taken.  Many of my students will read some of the books that I have on display and can’t understand why they were banned.

During Banned Books Week I’ll be posting about a handful of books that are listed on the ALA website as banned or censored from 2010-2011.  Because my students often have so much to say about these books and the issue of censorship, I’ll be including their thoughts in each of my posts.  I hope you’ll come back to my blog this week to learn more 🙂

To kick off the week, I’m holding a banned books giveaway.  The winner will be picked randomly, emailed and allowed to pick a banned book that I’ll purchase and mail to them.

Giveaway Guidelines:

* Must be 13 or older to enter
* U.S. residents only
* Giveaway begins Sunday, Sept. 25th and runs through Saturday, Oct. 1st
* No extra entries are required, but spreading the news is always appreciated 🙂
* Only one entry per person

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