Starting a Review Club

When I returned from NCTE and ALAN with boxes of books for my classroom, I held a book pass to expose my students to the new titles entering the room. Many of the titles are 2017 releases, which always excites them since they get to read them before anyone else. Since I do this and since these titles haven’t released yet, I haven’t had the chance to read them myself.

Ten years ago when I began teaching I almost always read every single book that entered my classroom. Now that I’ve created such an expansive classroom library and have cultivated a culture of reading in my classroom, I can’t always keep up with my students. I don’t always read every single book I bring into my room. Don’t get me wrong, even with a toddler and a baby on the way, I’m still reading as much as I can as often as I can. But I felt like I needed to do something about the books I haven’t read yet.

My honors freshmen are voracious readers, so I decided to try something with them in regards to these books I haven’t read. I spoke with them about my situation and asked if any of them would be interested in reviewing some of these titles for me. We gathered a small stack of books that I haven’t read, made a list of interested students, and started passing them out. I created a sign-up list on my board. We decided on a process.

My third block honors freshmen have asked for new titles every couple of weeks so they have more time to read the book of their choice and then pass it on to the next person on the list. My first block honors freshmen said they want new books as often as possible (this class tends to read at a faster pace). Once one student is finished with the book, he/she passes it on to the next student on the list. After he/she finishes the book, a review is written and given to me, but we also sit and discuss the likes/dislikes. So far there have been more enthusiastic likes than dislikes! This process gives my students some ownership in the classroom, helps me build deeper relationships with them when we discuss the books, helps the students form relationships with one another as they discuss their common read, and also helps me gain some insight on the books before I read them myself!

Right now I’m thinking about arranging some kind of display in my classroom with these titles and recommendations, but I’m still not sure what it should look like. If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them!

These are the titles my freshmen have been sharing so far:

  • This Is Our Story by Ashley Elston (Goodreads)
  • The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Goodreads)
  • Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill (Goodreads)
  • The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius (Goodreads)

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.”

 

“no”

 

“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.

 

Student Book Review: The Law of Loving Others by Kate Axelrod

The Law of Loving OthersTitle: The Law of Loving Others

Author: Kate Axelrod

Publisher: Razorbill

Release Date: January 8th, 2015

Student Reviewer: Cory

Student Review:

The Law of Loving Others is about a girl named Emma who when she comes home from boarding school she finds her mom acting weird. When she finds out that her mom is schizophrenic, she starts to wonder if she could be too. She confides in her boyfriend, Daniel, and wonders if he would still love her is she was schizophrenic. But when she meets Phil, a guy who understands what she is going through, she wonders if everything could be the same again.

I really enjoyed The Law of Loving Others, Kate Axelrod lets you put yourself into Emma’s shoes. I really felt Emma’s emotions through the book, and I could really relate to Emma’s feelings of realization and questioning her childhood. She was losing her innocence in just a matter of a few days.

This book was very realistic in all of the characters and their emotions. Emma feels confused when her mom was acting weird, and sad when her mom wasn’t getting better fast enough. She wasn’t overly dramatic, very believable.

I didn’t like the ending because it was a cliffhanger, and I like closure when reading books. I feel like Kate Axelrod could easily write a sequel, and maybe she did that on purpose. Also, there were drugs involved, so this is not a book for people who are offended by drug use.

This book is a great read for people who love realistic fiction, and for people who enjoy some tears along with a few laughs. The Law of Loving Others will put you in Emma’s shoes, so be ready for an emotional rollercoaster.

Student Book Reviews: The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner

Since bringing my ARC of The Summer of Letting Go into my classroom, my senior girls have been passing it around quite a bit. It’s been such a favorite this year that three of my students wrote mini book reviews for Gae Polisner’s sophomore release.

Title: The Summer of Letting Go

Author: Gae Polisner

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

The Summer of Letting GoSummary (From Goodreads):

Just when everything seems to be going wrong, hope and love can appear in the most unexpected places.

Summer has begun, the beach beckons and Francesca Schnell is going nowhere. Four years ago, Francesca’s little brother, Simon, drowned, and Francesca is the one who should have been watching. Now Francesca is about to turn sixteen, but guilt keeps her stuck in the past. Meanwhile, her best friend, Lisette, is moving on most recently with the boy Francesca wants but can’t have. At loose ends, Francesca trails her father, who may be having an affair, to the local country club. There she meets four-year-old Frankie Sky, a little boy who bears an almost eerie resemblance to Simon, and Francesca begins to wonder if it’s possible Frankie could be his reincarnation. Knowing Frankie leads Francesca to places she thought she’d never dare to go and it begins to seem possible to forgive herself, grow up, and even fall in love, whether or not she solves the riddle of Frankie Sky.

Student Reviewer: Alyssa

Student Review:

This book may turn some people away by the love story and what not, but what makes this story so interesting is the aspect nobody tends to think or talk about. The idea of reincarnation.

Francesca Schnell’s story of her brothers passing is absolutely heart breaking. Definitely not something you’d ever wish upon someone, especially a child. Her struggle through getting over it is never ending. Once Frankie Sky, a boy she babysits, comes into her life, everything changes. The fact that her brother could have reincarnated into Frankie Sky is something so unbelievable and makes you wish it could happen in your life. This books pursues a different way of making people knowledgable on the topic of reincarnation. The ups and downs and the adventure of finding this all out is a journey worth reading about. The love aspect of this book is just the cherry on top of it all for me. I give this five stars!

Student Reviewer: Morgan

Student Review:

The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner ws not only a story of moving forward from the past, but also a story of love and friendship. I loved every part of this book, from the cute and daring personality of Frankie Sky, to the conflict Francesca faces in leaving behind the guilt of her brother’s death. I enjoyed the way the story would tie into other parts of the book with Francesca’s past and her younger brother Simon. Every page was entertaining and kept me hoping for more. When it came to tense parts, my heart would start racing as if the story were my own life. I consider this book the best that I have read so far and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in stories of friendship or stories about moving on from the past.

Student Reviewer: Kayla

Student Review:

I absolutely loved this book. It’s 316 pages long and I read it in two days, which never happens. The book takes you to multiple places, from a love story to a story about religion and different beliefs. As cliche as it sounds, I honestly believe this book changed the way I think. I grew up believing that heaven was the only way after death. This book opened my eyes to a whole new world. While I know The Summer of Letting Go is fiction, I connected with it it because I’ve been questioning things. It is a very insightful book that I would recommend to those who enjoy impossible love stories.

Are Teen Girls Seeing Themselves Reflected in What They Read?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student Book Review: Winger by Andrew Smith

WingerTitle: Winger

Author: Andrew Smith

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Student Reviewer: London

Summary (From Goodreads):

Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

Filled with hand-drawn info-graphics and illustrations and told in a pitch-perfect voice, this realistic depiction of a teen’s experience strikes an exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking.

Student Review:

Winger was the best book I have read this year! I loved the way the author made me feel as if Ryan was a real person. Andrew Smith did this by making the main character Ryan Dean draw doodles and pictures on how he was feeling or what was going on in his life. The doodles were always comical and made me laugh.

I believe that everyone would enjoy reading Winger, it was a quick read. The book had really short chapters which was wonderful, because it made the book easy to pick up and put down. Also, it allowed me to read the book faster because whenever I got spare time I could get in a quick chapter.

Not only did the author do an amazing job of making me feel emotions for these characters, but he made me feel as if I was watching them from afar. Just like a movie. Andrew Smith did an excellent job of describing the setting and made me feel like I actually knew the layout of the boarding school campus, Annie’s house, etc.

Great escape from reality. If you are looking for a light read that will put a smile on you face this is the book for you. The author Andrew takes you inside the mind of a 14 year old boy and it’s extremely entertaining. Winger was a good distraction and didn’t force my brain to have to do a lot of thinking.

Even the ending was eventful and extremely unexpected. I loved this because I thought the book was going to be a typical love story, but then is turned into a tragedy. Although it had me in tears I couldn’t imagine the book ending any other way.

Really loved this book and hope that other people will read it and fall in love with it like I did. I just could relate so easily with the book, because it is about the realities of a high school student. Even though they were at a boarding school most of the conflicts were common and can be found in every high school. I just thought this book was so great and hope others will too.

Student Book Review: The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow

The Berlin Boxing ClubTitle: The Berlin Boxing Club

Author: Robert Sharenow

Publisher: HarperTeen

Student Reviewer: Ayla

Summary (From Goodreads):

Karl Stern has never thought of himself as a Jew; after all, he’s never even been in a synagogue. But the bullies at his school in Nazi-era Berlin don’t care that Karl’s family doesn’t practice religion. Demoralized by their attacks against a heritage he doesn’t accept as his own, Karl longs to prove his worth.

Then Max Schmeling, champion boxer and German hero, makes a deal with Karl’s father to give Karl boxing lessons. A skilled cartoonist, Karl never had an interest in boxing, but now it seems like the perfect chance to reinvent himself.

But when Nazi violence against Jews escalates, Karl must take on a new role: family protector. And as Max’s fame forces him to associate with Nazi elites, Karl begins to wonder where his hero’s sympathies truly lie. Can Karl balance his boxing dreams with his obligation to keep his family out of harm’s way?

Student Review:

In The Berlin Boxing Club, Karl, a young Jewish boy, becomes a boxer to defend himself from the “Hitler Youth” and figures out he wants to become even more than that. As he is trying to strive for perfection in techniques, he finds himself striving to protect his entire family from the SS and getting them out of Nazi Germany.

The Berlin Boxing Club was a perfect story to show how Jewish people were treated and how they personally felt during World War II. The novel was very sad and had an effect on me because Robert Sharenow made the feelings of the characters very lifelike and I felt the emotions of the characters. THE BERLIN BOXING CLUB would be perfect for almost anyone. Especially those who are learning about the Holocaust or learning about the push against Jews in Germany.

The characters in this book were perfectly put together. The most realistic character to me would be Karl’s mother. She goes into a depressed mood any time something bad happens in her life. The book starts right when the Jews are starting to be excluded from mostly everything and she will just lock herself in the bathroom and sit in the bath for hours. I think she would be a real character because she knew there was nothing she could do. The government and the police would have it however they wanted it and the rules were just not in her favor.

Also, I liked the character of Karl’s little sister. She was getting the worst out of all of the characters because she apparently looked like a Jew so there was no way she could actually hide the fact that she was one. She gets tortured in the book and it was realistic because she was tired of being the kind of human she was and she took it out on those who didn’t look like she did and they looked normal. Karl didn’t look Jewish so he got away with it longer than the rest of his family. I could almost relate to her because sometimes I wish I didn’t look they way I do, but don’t we all think that sometimes?

I loved all f the fighting scenes in the book. Karl becomes a great fighter and Robert Sharenow wrote The Berlin Boxing Club so all of the boxing scenes play like a movie in your head. All of the scenes were as if they came out of a Rocky movie. Every detail was thought of and every moment was captured.

This book was shocking and inspiring by the way it was written and the show of determination in the eyes of a young boy going through the worst part of his life.

Student Book Review: While He Was Away by Karen Schreck

While He Was AwayTitle: While He Was Away

Author: Karen Schreck

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Student Reviewer: Makenna

Summary (From Goodreads):

One year–he’ll be gone for one year and then we’ll be together again and everything will be back to the way it should be.

The day David left, I felt like my heart was breaking. Sure, any long-distance relationship is tough, but David was going to war–to fight, to protect, to put his life in danger. We can get through this, though. We’ll talk, we’ll email, we won’t let anything come between us.

I can be an army girlfriend for one year. But will my sweet, soulful, funny David be the same person when he comes home? Will I? And what if he doesn’t come home at all?…

“A tender and honest examination of love, longing, and loyalty in the face of modern war.”–Laura Ruby, author of Bad Apple

“While He Was Away is a wonderful love story with writing that is skillful and true.”–Amy Timberlake, author of That Girl Lucy Moon

Student Review:

The book While He Was Away by Karen Schreck is all about a girl and a guy.  The odds are against them when Penelope’s boyfriend, David, leaves to go to war.  He is in the army so Penelope and David’s relationship is being tested.  She has to keep herself occupied while he is away.  While Penelope is making friends, David is off becoming a different person.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  I can relate to this book; it captured my attention.  I love how strong and faithful Penelope is to David.  It shows that there are some people in the world that can handle long distance relationships.

Another thing I liked about this book is how it can guide people through dealing with a long distance relationship.  Especially the kind where one is going off to war.  It isn’t always easy being positive but this book explains to people that it is really important.  It is also important to stay busy so you aren’t worrying all the time.

Even though I liked the characters and it is a great help for long distance relationships, there is a part that I don’t really like.  I dislike the ending because it seems like every book about military relationships always ends badly.  I feel like if people that can relate to and read While He Was Away, it will worry them.  Not all military relationships end badly; it just seems like people don’t talk about those as much.

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