National Book Awards: The Next Bracket

national book awards

In June, I posted about a project that I am doing with a group of other educators. Dr. Steven Bickmore (you should go read his YA blog, by the way) gathered a bunch of us together to read all of the National Book Award winners and runners up since the award for YA turned twenty this year. We divided up the books by year (there are five books per year); my year was 1996 and I posted about those books here.

We each chose a “winner” from our year to move on to the next round. I chose A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer (a finalist in 1996; the winner that year being Parrot in the Oven by Victor Martinez).

From there we were put into groups of five to read each other’s picks and work together to nominate one from our group to move on. These are the next four books I read (in addition to A Girl Named Disaster):

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan (2000 National Book Award Winner)

Maybe it’s my historical fiction kick, but I really loved this book. In fact, this is tied for me with A Girl Named Disaster to move on to the next round.

So what is the book about? Koly is only thirteen years old when her parents arrange a marriage for her. While an arranged marriage is typical in India, Koly’s takes a tragic turn and she is left to fend for herself in a large city. The book is a quick read and appeals to all levels. It’s set in India and asks the reader to wonder about family structures, cultures, and traditions while also addressing the idea that the individual does not have to fit a mold to be a happy part of society.

Godless by Pete Hautman (2004 National Book Award Winner)

While Homeless Bird was my favorite of the four new books I read, this was my least favorite. I wanted it to be my favorite. I wanted to fall into it and find a bit of myself in it. The book is narrated by teenager Jason Bock whose family is very Catholic. Jason identifies as a “agnostic-going-on-atheist”. His parents try to get him into the fold of religion by sending him to a class at church for teenagers to talk about issues. The class only solidifies Jason’s apathy toward organized religion. In a moment of boredom and, according to Jason, clarity, he decides to create his own religion–one that worships the town water tower.

I really wanted this book to push the envelope and dig into the questions many teens have about religion and God. I was one of those teens and I craved books that showed others feeling and questioning as I did. This book fell short and only seemed to graze the surface. I was disappointed.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (2008 National Book Award Finalist)

This was another one that I loved. I almost put this as my vote to move on, but didn’t just because I think Homeless Bird appeals to a larger range of students than Chains does.

Chains takes place just as the Revolutionary War is about to begin. Isabel is a 13-year old slave in Rhode Island whose mistress dies. She and her sister are to be freed according to their mistresses will, but that does not happen and she is sold to a cruel New York City couple who side with the King and not with the American Revolution. Isabel finds herself befriending a slave boy who works for the Rebels and delivers messages and makes other dangerous errands that could get her beat…or worse.

This book was brilliant. It was long, and took a bit to get into, but the way Anderson wove both history and fiction together was flawless. Anderson has a follow up novel, Forge, and also a third, Ashes. I think students who love American History and have more reading stamina will fall in love with this series.

Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (2012 National Book Award Finalist)

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction and what I do read is usually memoir, and I definitely don’t read books about science, war, or bombs, so I waited to read this one until the very last. Where Godless disappointed me, this one thrilled me. Bomb is written as a narrative of how the nuclear bomb was imagined, theorized, tested, and finally created. It also weaves in Russia’s attempts to steal the bomb using primary source quotes from American and Russian spies. It’s a real-life story of war and espionage. While I know what happens in the end–we make the bomb before he Germans and bomb Japan–I was still on the edge of my seat for the personal stories of the scientists who worked on the bomb…and those who leaked information to the Russians. The photos throughout were also a wonderful addition to the book. I want a separate category for books like this, but I feel like maybe this is one of a kind.

Overall I think the books I can see my 8th graders picking up and reading on their own are Homeless Bird and A Girl Named Disaster. Those are tied for me and I would be happy to move either on to the next round!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

Five Summer Reads

five summer reads

So far this summer I have read quite the eclectic array of books. I had friends publish books, so I wanted to read those. I also wanted to read some more adult fiction since I spend a good deal of time reading YA lit, however I do love YA lit, so I have still be reading lots of that too. While I have read a LOT of books since school got out (around a dozen or so), these five stuck out as ones I wanted to pass along in case you needed something to read by the pool, beach, or on the couch while the Detroit Tigers are losing.

Letters for Scarlet by Julie C Gardner 

I have a confession. When my friends write a book I get very nervous to read it. I mean, what if I don’t like it? How will I tell them? Thankfully this has never actually happened to me. Letters for Scarlet is written by my long-time blogging friend, Julie. I have read her blog for years and marveled at her ability to write. To be able to hold her book in my hands made me giggle happily.

The book is one I would totally choose to read on my own. Corie Harper is a late-twenties English teacher. She and her husband, Tuck are trying to get pregnant, but can’t. One day, Corie gets a letter from herself–one she wrote senior year of high school when she was best friends with Tuck and Scarlet. Corie and Tuck had a falling out with Scarlet and hadn’t heard from her since. Until Scarlet’s mom wants Corie to find her and deliver the letter.

Scarlet, on the other hand, does not want to be found. She has a great job and finds out she is pregnant. She thinks having the baby would be a terrible idea.

Both women are running from the memories of one particular night their senior year. The book gives you bits and pieces that just keep you turning pages to find out what happened…and if Scarlet will keep the baby…and if Corie and Tuck will make their marriage work.

All The Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr

I love historical fiction because I feel like I am getting a glimpse of life from a different time in a way no history class could ever teach me.  All the Light We Cannot See does this so beautifully. The story is engaging, sure, but the writing!  The writing captured me and just would not let go in the best kind of way.

The novel is really two stories that wrap around into one. Marie-Laure lives with her grandfather in Paris near the Museum of Natural History. At age six, she goes completely blind, and he builds her small models of Paris and it’s roads so she can have a 3D map of sorts to learn her way around. When the Nazis capture Paris, they are forced to run away to the walled city of Saint-Malo to live with a reclusive uncle. Marie-Laure is unaware that they have carried something extremely valuable and dangerous with them.

Werner is an orphan who lives in an orphanage in a mining town in Germany. He is brilliant at building and fixing radios. The Nazi party catches wind of this and recruits him into the Hitler Youth. Eventually Werner finds himself in the basement of a building in Saint-Malo trying to fix some equipment. His story is about to meet Marie-Laure’s…or has it already?

The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte by Jennie Goutet

Jennie is another one of my very wonderful blogging friends. I’d already read (and loved) her memoir, but this was my first time reading her fiction. As usual, I was nervous I would not like it, especially since this one was being touted as a romance. Romance is not what I would pick up, but it’s summer and I love Jennie and I thought, “what the heck? I’ll give it a go!”

I am so glad I did! This book is not what I would think of when I think of a typical romance…or maybe I have the wrong idea of a typical romance? Chastity is a single mother and high school English teacher in France. One of her students is the son of Viscount Charles Jean Anne de Brase. Now, don’t let not knowing what a viscount is get in your way of reading this one. I know next to nothing about France, and I was able to figure it all out with context clues. Jennie’s writing is accessible to anyone who wants to read it!

Chastity is unimpressed with the Viscount’s off-putting personality when she asks to meet with him about his son’s academic performance. She has pretty much written him off as a total rude snob, when her ex-boyfriend–straight from prison for drugs–shows back up and wants to spend time with their son. An accident involving their son throws the Viscount further into Chastity’s life than she could have imagined.

Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman

This book may be my new favorite YA read. Having dual narrators is hot right now, but Schusterman takes that to a different level by having the narrator always be Caden Bosch, but from different states of mental health and awareness. Sometimes he is first-person narrating from the reality of his family and friends, other times it’s from aboard a ship with a deranged Captain and a talking parrot who both give him direction. Is he hallucinating? Is this a different world he has created for himself? Does he have another personality? Other times he falls into second person narration when he seems the most disconnected from reality. His ship world and the “real” world are connected, but you have to keep reading to find out how.

This might be the most beautifully tragic journey into and through mental illness that I have ever read.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Anything in the genres of paranormal or fantasy are a big stretch for me. In fact, I have never read Harry Potter (Don’t shoot!).  But I had A) heard this was very good and B) let myself get intrigued by the real photos that were used. I flipped to the back of the book and learned via the interview with Randsom Riggs that he found all the photos first and would write little stories to go with them. I found this a fascinating way to jump start a novel.

Jacob, a sixteen-year-old, finds himself traveling to a remote island off the coast of Wales in search of some family history. He finds, instead, and abandoned house that used to be Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. After searching some more, he finds that maybe these children were more than just strange…and maybe, somehow, they are still alive even though it is said they were all killed in a bomb attack during WWII.

Just like with Stephen King novels, I found myself drawn to how real Riggs made everything seem before introducing the paranormal/fantasy elements. I was already drawn in and invested in the characters before what would normally turn me off occurred. I was already hooked! I look forward to the next in the series (that I will have to borrow from my own classroom library!).

So what have you read so far this summer? Anything I should add to my list?

How They Read Now: The ’96 National Book Award Winners

National Book Award

Over the past month, I have been busy reading five books that I normally would not have picked up on my own. This year marks twenty years of the National Book Award and this winter I joined a group of colleagues and book lovers to go back and read those award-winning YA books. There are twenty of us participating–each taking a year of winners. Each year has five novels. Each reader is tasked with choosing the one book from their year to move on to the next bracket, with the idea that we choose ONE book from the past twenty years that we all feel is the BEST of all the National Book Award Winners.  I chose 1996 for a few reasons.

I am at that age where YA novels were sub par when I was the target audience for YA literature. My mom would make a weekly trip to the library in the summer and come home with stacks of books from their tiny section with young people as the protagonist. I read a lot of terribly written books over those summers. The YA scene didn’t vastly improve until after I had gotten my job teaching high school English. Coming of age with shoddy writing about gender stereotypes and predictable plots made me want to revisit what judges deemed exceptional back then.

The books I read:

Parrot in The Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez

I read this one in grad school for an adolescent lit class circa 2004. I remember being blown away that this sort of literature existed for young people since everything we read was extremely different than the tales of summer romances and back-stabbing best friends that I had access to. Since it had been more than a decade, I re-read the book for this project. I was sure this would be my pick for the best.

Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida is told from the point of view of 14-year-old Manny Hernandez who lives with his sisters, his brother, and his parents the barrio in California. The writing was beautiful. Martinez creates lovely vignettes for each chapter painting each scene with similes like when he describes the pepper plants he and his older brother are going to pick from to earn extra money: “…gesturing down at some limp branches leaning away from the road, as if trying to lift their roots and hustle away from the passing traffic” (10). The way he describes what the sky looks like above the pepper field, “clouds boiling like water on the horizon” not only appeal to the reader’s visual sense, but also reminds us that it is so blisteringly hot that even the clouds feel it (13).

While the writing was lovely, the plot was underwhelming. Manny’s family has issues and he is deciding whether or not to join a gang. At the time of publication, the race wars in California had tensions across the entire country running high. Not many authors had so eloquently written about the Latino experience from the eyes of a Latino youth, so it is not surprising that the plot coupled with poetic prose, won an award twenty-years ago. However if I were to hand this book to my middle school students now, I don’t think they would be as blown away after reading the works of authors like Benjamin Alire Saenz and Margarita Engle.

What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman

After reading reviews of this one, I was looking forward to something ground-breaking. What Jamie Saw read more like what I remember 90’s YA lit reading like: potential that is just not realized. The plot is that Jamie witnesses his mom’s boyfriend do something mean to his younger sister. Mom and Jamie and the baby leave. They are afraid of the ex-boyfriend. The problem is that the plot falls short. Other than mentioning something–domestic abuse–that probably wasn’t mentioned much then, it really stops there with just mentioning it. Since Jamie is just a little kid, the language is simplistic and we are left to infer what conversations his mother is having when she asks him to play outside or tend to his baby sister.

In the end, the book felt like an after school special, but with even less drama. Definitely did not seem award-winning to me.

Send Me Down a Miracle by Han Nolan

This may have been my least favorite of all five books. At least with What Jamie Saw I was interested in the plot even if it did turn out to be too simple for my taste. Send Me Down a Miracle had better writing, but the plot was pretty terrible, as was the characterization.

Charity is supposedly a 14-year old who lives with her younger sister, her dad, who is the preacher in a super small Southern town. Her mom is gone to a birdcage convention and later we find out she may or may not be coming back. A stranger–an artist from New York–comes to town one day to work on her art. She announces she will be living closed from society for a month. When she comes out she claims to have seen Jesus sitting on a chair in her house.

First of all, Charity seems way younger and naive than any 14-year old I have ever met. In fact, she is somewhat unbelievable as a 14-year old. Her father reminds me of the dad in Footloose, but less of a fully developed character. The most interesting characters to me where Adrienne (the artist) and Charity’s mom, both of whom are flat and undeveloped. In the beginning I thought Adrienne was going to be the star of the book when Charity describes her entrance: “Then in walked Adrienne into our tidy home, looking like some wild jungle woman with fat, frizzed-out hair, rings on her toes, and this long, brightly colored skirt that was practically see-through.” But no.

The entire plot of the town going crazy for a “Jesus Chair” was just poorly executed, in my opinion.

The Long Season of Rain by Helen Kim

This was the last book I had to read and it was hard to find. When it showed up to my house I took one look at the book cover and groaned. I thought for sure I would be bored to tears. I was pleasantly surprised.

The Long Season of Rain takes place in South Korea in the 1960’s. It starts during the rainy season, Changma, while school is out for recess. The story is told from 11-year-old Junehee’s point of view. She is the second of four daughters and lives with her parents and her paternal grandmother. One day her grandmother brings home a boy her age who was orphaned in a mudslide. His presence brings out family secrets and tensions between her mother and father.

I will admit that historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I hadn’t read any historical YA lit about Korea before, so even though I thought the book would bore me, I was wrong. The writing was lovely and wove Korean words easily with English in a way that was not confusing to the reader, but brought a richer sense of tradition and culture. Kim also does a good job of weaving the traditions of a conservative Korean family into the plot. They do not stand out, but rather enhance the story and push the motives of the characters.

I would classify this as a fairly typical bildungsroman because Junehee “comes of age” as she loses her innocence of her parents’ relationship and family workings. This was my runner-up pick.

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer

As you may have already guessed, A Girl Named Disaster is my pick for the best of the 1996 National Book Award Winners. Like The Long Season of Rain, it falls under the historical YA fiction heading. At first, I wasn’t so sure about it since I have recently read two other YA books set in Africa, but this one blows both of those away too.

Nhamo is 11-years old living in a traditional village in Mozambique where she doesn’t fit in. Her mother was killed by a leopard when she was a baby, and her father took off before she was born. Culture places daughters with their father’s family, but Nhamo is brought up by her maternal side. After sickness plagues her village, it is decided that she should be married off to a terrible man to bring health and luck back to the village. Nhamo decides it’s time to find her father’s family who are supposedly in Zimbabwe.

Her year-long adventure is like a cross between the hero’s journey and a bildungsroman. She definitely “comes of age” during her travels, but it almost exactly follows the typical “hero’s journey” elements as well. Of all the books this is the one that not only stuck with me after I was done reading, but I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it. It was a book I stayed up late to finish because I needed to know what would happen. That alone makes it the clear front-runner.

The writing was beautifully descriptive as well. One of the qualities of a truly good book–especially world literature–is when the author can make the cultures and traditions come alive and make sense and weave them into the plot of the book. Farmer does that impeccably in A Girl Named Disaster.

I look forward to reading the winners from the 2012, 2008, 2004, and 2000 groups so we can decide on one to push through to the final brackets! I’ll keep you posted!

Get Yer Groupon!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are mine.


Let me tell you a little story about a girl who enjoys shopping. In this story, the girl is me. I enjoy shopping. I mostly enjoy shopping when I feel cranky or sad or disappointed or in need of a pick-me-up.

But here is the rub: we don’t have a bunch of disposable income for me to go out shopping myself happy. (I know, I know, money doesn’t buy happiness. But you know what? It buys “cheer up”).  This means I either have to forego the shopping or I have to do it smartly.

I never saw myself as a “coupon-er.” In fact, I may be guilty of mocking those who obsessively clip coupons–those people who have a coupon for everything and plan their lives around said coupons. However, I do appreciate a good deal, and if it’s not something I have to “clip”, I am even happier.

Enter Groupon Coupons.

So admittedly, you are not exactly saving as much money shopping with a coupon as you would just not shopping. But listen: they regularly have Target and Starbucks coupons, so we all know I was going to spend that money anyway. They also have Barnes and Noble coupons which I totally JUST used five minutes ago to get a couple more books for my classroom library. It was in the name of research for this post, ok?

See my library back there? Always adding to it!

See my library back there? Always adding to it!

You want more proof? Fine. They also currently have coupons to Carter’s (where 90% of my children’s clothing comes from), Kohl’s (where I get all of Eddie’s jeans), and Shutterfly (where I make all my kids’ photo books each year).  These are places I shop anyway. That is why it’s so awesome. I get emails with the latest coupon offers and I can use or not use. If Eddie has blown out the knees in every pair of his jeans and he needs new ones anyway (which is a true story at this house), I may as well not pay full price!

So tell me…do you Groupon?

Six World YA Lit Books You Should Read NOW


It’s been awhile since I wrote about what I’ve been reading, which is actually funny because I have been reading more than I ever have before. In fact, I am on book 22 for the school year! Crazy!

Anyway, in the last month or so, I read six Young Adult Lit books that fall under the category of “world literature” and “historical fiction” because my 8th grade classes would be choosing between them for their final class book of the school year. Each of my five classes has a “book club” centered around each of these books. So far, it’s a wonderful experience, and I think the fact that the book are so darn good is has a big part of that.

I really love historical fiction, but I admit I hadn’t read much YA historical fiction until now. And of course reading six titles, probably qualifies as binging on it, but I am Ok with that. I highly recommend all of these titles to anyone 13 and over, so let’s get into the books…

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson 

Based on stories friends and family have told her, Edwardon bases her book in Alaska in the 1960’s when public schools were unavailable to the majority of children who didn’t live in a main city. Before 1976, students who wanted to attend high school had to travel hundreds of miles to boarding schools. In My Name is Not Easy, Luke (whose real name is not really Luke, but something too difficult for white speakers to pronounce) and his brothers–along with other children including Chickie, Amiq, Junior, and Sonny–are sent to Sacred Heart School where they realize that the students–Eskimo like them, Native American (Indian), and white–segregate themselves in the lunch room almost as if some sort of war is going on. The staff at Sacred Heart forbid use of native language and push to assimilate the children to a white, Catholic culture, but the students main goal is just to survive school and get back to their families.

I not only loved all of the characters in this book, but I knew many of my students would identify with having a name and culture that society may not understand. Many of my students may feel that they have to push their own culture behind them at school.

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

Engle tells the story of Cuba’s struggle for independence through poetry through the eyes of characters in the middle of the action, mainly Rosa–known to some as a witch for her knowledge of holistic healing with herbs. The story begins with her childhood learning the different powers of flowers and plants, and it follows her as she becomes a nurse to those injured–from both sides–during Cuba’s fight against the Spanish empire. The setting is mainly near the concentration camps where former Cuban slaves were sent. While the poems are mostly from Rosa’s point of view, some are also from the voice of Lieutenant Death, a slave hunter who has a particular vengeance for capturing Rosa. The character of Rosa is based on Rosa Castellanos, an historical heroine known as “la bayamesa”.

This book was both beautiful and devestating. I had forgotten home much I love to read narrative poetry, and how quickly the actual reading goes. The imagery and  just sensations this book oozes are wonderful and terrifying. I went back and re-read some of my favorites. This book is in English, but a Spanish version is also included. Many of my students are hungry to read in their native tongue and lots have family in Cuba. I knew this would be appealing to those kids.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

This is book is a dual narrative about Salva–one of the Sudanese Lost Boys–and Nya. Salva’s true story begins when he is eleven years old in 1985. Salva is separated from his family when fighting comes to his village in Southern Sudan. He has to walk for days in hope to find his family. He struggles to find food and people. He ends up walking for seven years before ending up in a refugee camp. Nya is a fictional character whose story begins in 2008 when she is also eleven years old. She has to walk to a pond that is two hours away twice a day to provide fresh water for her family. Her story emphasizes the lack of clean water in Sudan and the importance of family. In the end, Salva and Nya’s stories cross making a very important push for Salva’s cause of bringing clean water to South Sudan.

This was the first book of the six I read and I remember closing it and thinking, “these books are going to leave me emotionally drained.” I was right. Reading Salva and Nya’s stories was like going on these walks with them. And although I knew Salva survived to create the Water For South Sudan project, I kept thinking, “this is it. He can’t survive this.” I knew this book would appeal to the widest range of students, and since its the shortest, easiest read many of my reluctant readers chose it and are loving it.

Climbing The Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

Vidya is fifteen and dreams of going to college. But she lives in British-occupied India during World War II. Her family is loving and supportive and fairly liberal, encouraging her to be what she wants to be. However tragedy strikes and they are forced to live with ultra-conservative relatives who believe women should remain uneducated, serve men, and wait around to be married to a good family. Vidya is miserable, but she secretly breaks the rules and ventures upstairs to her grandfather’s library to read books she is not supposed to even touch. Here she meets Raman who treats her as an equal. When her brother leaves unexpectedly, Vidya is suddenly forced to think about the political situation in India and what she can do to hold on and make her dreams reality.

This is totally a “girl power” book. Venkatraman bases her characters on family members who have told her stories of growing up in India during this time period, and I was excited to see some of my strongest girls chose this book, and have already commented that they are totally loving it!

Far From Home by Na’ima B Robert

This was the last book I read of the six and I admit to needing to take a break from reading after this one. For one, I had binge-read six historical fictions in less than four weeks. Secondly this one made me think and I just needed the time to reflect before diving into something new.

Part One of Far From Home is Tariro’s story.  She is fourteen years old, lives in Zimbabwe on her ancestral grounds near the baobab tree that she was born under. Her dad is the chief, she is in love with the brave and handsome Nhamo–things couldn’t be better. Then white settlers arrive and violently and tragically drive her and her family out of their home into new areas zoned specifically for the blacks.

Part Two is Katie’s story and takes place twenty-five years later. Katie is also fourteen and lives on a farm in Zimbabwe near the baobab tree. She loves her family, her exclusive boarding school, and her home. Then disaster strikes when the second War for Liberation occurs and natives begin to reclaim their land. She is forced to leave the only hone she has ever known and go back to London with her family.

It was hard for me to feel sorry for Katie at first. Her relatives had been the ones to drive the natives off their land! But as I read, I understood the complexity of it. Katie, herself, had not been involved in the relocation. This home was where she was born and raised. It’s all she knew. Plus as the entire story unfolds she learns about white privilege and humanity.

While it is worlds away from us, there are definite connections with today’s society here in the United States. It’s a more difficult, longer read, so only a few of my higher reading level students are tackling this one, but so far they are enjoying it and I am enjoying the conversations that are coming out of it.

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

This one affected me the most out of all the books. This is the true story of Arn, a survivor from the Cambodia Civil War during the 1970’s. He was eleven years old when the Khmer Rouge invaded his village, killing the upper-class and educated and separating the rest of the people into work camps. Arn was sent to a work camp that was also where they took prisoners and slaughtered them. He was forced to work with almost no food or sleep and witness the horrific murder of many people–some of whom he knew. If the kids reacted, they were also killed. Arn eventually volunteers to become a musician for the propaganda-like revolutionary songs the Khmer Rouge has them play. Later, when the Vietnamese invade to help the people of Cambodia, Arn is forced to join the Khmer Rouge as a child soldier.

I had to keep reminding myself that this story is true, and that Arn does survive and make it to the United States because I kept expecting him to die. Reading this from the lens of a mother and teacher was hard. I found myself putting the book down several times because the imagery was so horrifying. I knew my students would be engrossed in a book about a kid close to their own age having to survive experiences that were too terrible to even imagine. I was right.

All six of these books are about real historical events, many of which we don’t learn about in school. And if we do, it is only briefly covered in a textbook which dates and a few facts. These books humanize the wars and struggles so many children had to endure.

Have you read any of these? Do you have any suggestions to add to this list? (because I am always open to adding more to my To Read pile!)

38 before 38

In thirty-nine days I will be turning 38.

Over the weekend, I mentioned how fun it would be to receive 38 books for my classroom library in honor of turning 38. I shared my Amazon Wishlist and yesterday, two books showed up.

38 before 38

You guys know just how to make me smile.

So why not go for it, right? Let’s add 38 books to my classroom library!

All you have to do is go to my Wish List on Amazon. Many, many books my students put on there are less than $10 each. (Did you know most of the books are requests directly from my students? They are! Some are also added by me because I know my students will love them). It’s a LONG list.

If you purchase one off the list, it will get sent directly to me! You may choose to donate anonymously, or you can leave us a message to tell us where it came from. I will be posting pictures here on my 38th birthday on March 27.

I just realized that this kind of party–a book party–has GOT to be the best birthday party EVER. Plus it’s the kind I can share with my students!

Speaking of my students, did you know I post over at The Educator’s Room regularly? Check out my posts about why Reading Logs have to go and how I use Reader’s Notebooks with my middle school students. I also have a post on Writers Who Care about my writing process and how procrastination is a very large, important part of it.

By the way, thanks for being awesome.

Now…let’s read!

What I Read: 2015

Somebody (I don’t remember who anymore, sorry!) asked me for a post of all the books I read in 2015. Since I’m on Goodreads, I like to do the yearly challenge. Last year I set my goal at 25 books. I figured a couple a month was a fair goal with a new baby and all. As you can see, I surpassed that goal; I read 35 books!

I credit my students and our Reading Workshop. Since I have told my students that reading matters, and that when something matters, you find time to do it, I have made a commitment to reading every day. Usually I do it after the kids are in bed, but sometimes, if I’m not conferencing with my students, I will read my book when they have their reading time.  In fact, because of this I am already on my second book of 2016!

what i read

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This is a look back at the books I read in 2015, in order that I read them. I am too lazy to link to all of them, by the way, but I know you all know how to use the search function on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I put the MUST READs  in bold if you need some to add to your to read list (although to be fair, there is not a book on here I would say “meh” to. They are all recommendations, really. Just get them all, but read the ones in bold first). The books with a * are Young Adult Lit.

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (nonfiction)
  • The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr (nonfiction)
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Gone Girl by Jillian Flynn
  • Apron Strings by Mary Morony
  • Open Boxes by Christine Organ (nonfiction)
  • Jeneration X by Jen Lancaster (nonfiction)
  • The Shakespeare Conspiracy by Jeffery Hunter McQuain
  • The Potty Mouth at The Table by Laurie Notaro (nonfiction)
  • From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler*
  • Butter by Erin Jade Lange*
  • All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven*
  • Paper Towns by John Green*
  • Me, Earl, and The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews*
  • The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller (nonfiction)
  • The Chosen by Chiam Potok*
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart*
  • We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen*
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  • Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (nonfictionish)
  • Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher (nonfiction)
  • Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson (nonfiction)
  • Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher*
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio*
  • George by Alex Gino*
  • Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesen*
  • Both of Me by Jonathan Friesen*
  • Stand Off by Andrew Smith*
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan*
  • Fightball: Dying of Suck by Kris Wehrmeister (nonfiction)

This year I set my goal at 40. I think I can do it if I keep up the momentum that I set for myself in 2015.

Another thing I started doing this year is writing in a Reader’s Journal. I want my students to do this, so I model it by doing it myself. I have my notebook available in the classroom for students to flip through to see examples. They also like to flip through it for book recommendations. I admit I love reading their notebooks for this same reason. My To Read List grows as I talk to my students and read their thoughts about their books!

Knowing my students are looking to me as a model reader helps keep me reading. I try to read a mixture of Young Adult Literature and “regular” fiction/literature, just as I try to read a variety of fiction and nonfiction. That is part of my modeling for students too. Sometimes they get stuck on a genre and I want to show them there is awesome stuff across genres.

My other book goal for 2016 is to increase my classroom library by 100 more books. I added just under that (82 books) in 2015, so I think I can hit that goal this year. Right now my records show that I have 928 titles, and if I can surpass 1000 by the end of the year? Well, I will be ecstatic! To think that in the spring of 2014 I only had 104 books is crazy!

If you want to help, I keep a Wish List on Amazon of books that my students request as well as books I read about that I know my students will enjoy (I read a lot of new release and award lists).

Now tell me…what are you reading? What do you want to read? What should I read?

In the End

Today marks the end of NaBloPoMo: thirty days of solid, uninterrupted blog posts.


Part of me wants to keep going just to see how long I can go. The other part of me wants to slap the first part of me for being insane.

The thing is, I have learned some things from all this key-pounding.

For one, I learned that I can, in fact, carve out a slice of time every day to write. Some days it’s only about 5 minutes, but I consciously take the time. It’s been good for me mentally, I think. I feel like I was able to write about stuff as I thought about it rather than saying, “That would make a good blog post…someday.”

By hitting “publish” every day, I also learned that I probably don’t have to hit publish every day. The fact that I sat down to write is the good part. In fact, there are some posts that could stand to have stayed drafts to be revisited later. They just didn’t quite say what I wanted…or at least not the way I wanted to say it.

Not everything I write is gold, but dang if I didn’t write some good stuff this past month. At least in my lowly opinion it was good stuff. And I learned that writing begets writing. I’m sort of afraid to stop because I’m afraid if I skip a day, I will skip another day, and then a week, and then I will be rarely posting again. When I post only rarely, I start putting pressure on myself to write amazing things every time. So then I don’t post because I think what I’ve got to say isn’t good enough to break a silence of days of non-posts. It’s a stupid cycle.

Writing every day also forces me to think like a writer. Everything I do becomes fodder for a post, and I find myself jotting notes on post its, my planner, and even my hand. I write notes on my church bulletin and on receipts. Sometimes it’s singular words. I had “white church” written on a post-it that I carried around until I wrote about it last week.  Sometimes it’s a topic or a phrase. Sometimes I write a bunch of stuff in a notebook and use that to craft a post. I have been looking at my life through my writer’s lens this whole month, and that has felt good.

Lastly, I have learned…or actually reaffirmed…that I am a procrastinator. I never finished my days post (ok, I never even sat down to write them) until the evening. There were nights when–and Cortney can attest to this–I have been crabby and annoyed because I had  to still write something.

But I did it. Every day I did it.

What We’re Reading

It’s been awhile since I wrote about books. I didn’t realize how many of you actually like to know what I’m reading, what my kids are reading, and what my students are reading!

I’ll start with my reading pile.

I’m currently reading Both of Me by Jonathan Friesen. He will be the visiting author at our school in January, so I am teaching this book in the next few weeks. I’m pretty excited about it because it’s so different than any book I’ve ever taught.2015-10-28 22.00.13

Clara and Elias are randomly next to each other on a flight to the United States. On the flight, Clara tries to strike up a conversation with Elias and realizes that he knows something about her past–something she is trying to keep hidden in the past. After they part ways, she realizes their backpacks were switched, and when she brings his back to his residence, she realizes that the Elias she met on the plane is not the same Elias that greets her at the door.

We just had Eddie’s parent/teacher conference this week and found out he is meeting benchmarks that surpass first grade in both reading and math. The kid loves learning. We had two Captain Underpants books at home and these have now become Eddie’s favorite.

We have read three of the series so far (numbers 1, 3, and 4). Eddie has put the rest on his Christmas list. I’ll be honest and say I think they are pretty dumb, but they are silly and they keep Eddie interested in reading.


Charlie tries to listen to the chapter books at bedtime, but is usually uninterested if there are not pictures on the page. He usually picks from our enormous pile of picture books. Eddie also chooses books from his school library that he thinks Charlie will enjoy. This usually means we read a Curious George book at bedtime too.

It’s interesting to watch my students are reading. There are certain books and series from last year that were wildly popular that just haven’t been checked out much, but there are others that collected dust last year that have been constantly checked out this year.

A few of the favorites so far this year (that I haven’t mentioned before) include:


Paper Towns by John Green – Ok, I mentioned this one before. But it’s hugely popular right now because of the movie and because Looking For Alaska is pretty similar, that one is always checked out too.

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon – This book was new to my library this year and my students discovered it in the nonfiction section before I could read it. It’s a memoir about how Runyon attempted suicide as a teenager by setting himself on fire.

Gone (the series) by Michael Grant — Once kids have read through The Hunger Games and Divergent series they want something new. In this series, all the adults have been wiped out leaving only kids, toddlers, and babies to fend for themselves.

Bone (the series) by Jeff Smith — I really know nothing about this series because the minute I put it in my library it was all checked out. All of it. Reluctant readers (mostly boys) flock to this.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B Cooney — This actually a series too. I got it because this year I have quite a few reluctant readers who asked for mysteries. Since they were not big readers to begin with, my Agatha Christie was not appealing to them. I needed something YA to get their attention. Because of the popularity of this one, I just added the next in the “Janie Johnson Series”.

We Were Liars by e. lockhart — Ok fine. I mentioned this one before too. BUT in my defense that was before school started. This is one that the both boys and girls love to read. I’ve got quite the wait list for this one.

Ok, I showed you mine, now you show me yours. What are YOU reading? Or have I tempted you with any of these?


If you want to help give my students more books to choose from, check out my Project for getting 25 new books here. I only need $120!

BabyFat by Pauline Campos {a review}

BabyFatCover1+copy-2I’ve written before about the fact that I struggle with my self-image– most specifically my weight. In college I was 5’7″, 125 pounds, and a size 6. I was exactly average. I often wished for a couple curves, but overall I was pretty happy.

Now I am a good 75 pounds over that, although I am not taller, and definitely not a size 6. Before having kids, it wasn’t hard for me to lose weight if I worked hard at it an cleaned up the food I was eating. Now, five pregnancies later, my body can’t seem to let go. Or maybe I am eating trash and never moving my body. It’s something.

One of the very first chapters of Pauline Campos’s book Baby Fat: Adventures in Motherhood, Muffin Tops, and Trying to Stay Sane addresses this phrase: “you look good considering…”

hate this phrase. Because I know what “considering” means. I know why I look like I do. Why can’t people just stop with “you look good!”

Obviously, from the start of the memoir I was nodding right along.  In Baby Fat, Campos chronicles her weight loss (and gain) journey post-baby. And she does NOT hold back. She bares it all: every success and failure, every positive and negative thought. She is funny, but real.

While I can’t relate to the food sensitivities or allergies her family has, I totally know what it’s like to have the best intentions only to stumble into a pile of Twix. As Campos told herself, “Tomorrow will be different…” How many times have I repeated this mantra to myself (including last night when I riffled through the boys’ Halloween candy in search of chocolate paired with caramel)?

The book reads like Campos is giving you a peek into her diary, complete with date headings. And as you read, you feel like it too. Campos is not afraid to drop a swear word and let us know how she really feels about all the point-counting, calorie-watching she tries to do. One of my favorite lines straight from one of her chapter titles: “Diet is a bad, bad word”.

From my experience, the thing that really worked for me was cleaning up my eating habits, not going on a diet. Toward the end of her book, it seems that Campos is finding out the exact same thing. Of course knowing and doing are two entirely different things; something Campos and I also have in common.  It became obvious the more I read, the more we had in common in this battle of the bulge.

Even more clear is the message of accepting yourself for who you are NOW. Pauline struggles throughout her memoir to lose weight, but she makes it very clear that she loves her curves and she loves herself. This is something I need to work on more.

I have been trying to look at myself every day and list things that I love about me, and I really try to find one physical thing each day. Today it was my eyes, in case you wanted to know. I have pretty great blue eyes.

Anyway, you should check out Baby Fat. Not just because I liked it, but because it’s a quick, funny read that I think lots of women will relate to. Also because one of my tweets made chapter 26. But mostly because you will like the book.

Two lucky people are going to WIN the book! One will get a paper copy and one an e-copy! Enter in the Rafflecopter Widget below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I was not paid to review this book, but Pauline is a friend of mine and sent me a free e-copy. My post is full of my honest opinions. The link is an affiliate, so if you buy her book I get like 10 cents or something. I’ll probably use it to buy more books for my classroom library.

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