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!)

hearts breaking

My second year of teaching, a senior died in a jet-ski accident.

There were suicides.

There was a swimming accident.

There was a drunk driving accident–that one claimed two lives.

I’ve been in those horrible before school emergency staff meetings. The ones where it is horribly quiet and no one is making eye contact with each other.

Grief counselors on site for those who need someone to talk with or to cry with.

I am not down-playing those tragedies. They were awful and they rocked our schools.

But today was a category all it’s own.

This morning I stood in front of my first hour and had to deliver the news that one of the teachers had died suddenly the night before.

Because it is only my second year teaching in the school, and she and I teach different grades, I’ve only chatted with her a couple times, but I knew she was a student-favorite. I knew she was extremely close with much of the staff.

I stood in front of the class thinking I could read the script clearly, but I started to tremble. I knew the words after I said, “I am so sorry to have to inform you…” were going to absolute wreck my students.

And they did.

It was a short paragraph, but the sobs and sniffling started immediately.

They are just children, and someone they loved has been taken from them. Stolen.

Immediately I wanted to shelter my students. I wanted to not read the words. I wanted them to be protected from the pain for just a bit longer.

But I couldn’t. I had to break their hearts.

Those hearts were not alone, though. Immediately we brought kids to the ears and shoulders and arms they needed. Teachers postponed plans. We listened. We shared, but mostly we listened.

Between classes, the halls were quiet for the first few hours. Students found friends and fell into each other’s arms.

Administrators from all the other buildings stopped in.

Past staff were in the halls for faculty and students.

Teachers experienced grief hand-in-hand and side-by-side with their students.

At the end of the day, we were “debriefed”.

Exhausted, tear-stained faces gathered. Those who knew her best shared –and I was once again overcome with the wonderful person she was and how I wished I had gotten to know her better.

We were encouraged to take care of ourselves this weekend because today, we took care of our students first.

It’s what Abbey would have done.


Please pray for the students and staff of Wyoming Public Schools and for the family and friends of Abbey Czarniecki.

Getting Ready for Back to School

It’s that time of year again…back to school! I started thinking about this all the way back in June when I was technically “done” with  my maternity leave. I have been off for over five months at this point, and I am pretty ready to be back working.

Actually, I am mostly ready. My boys are definitely ready for a school day schedule, but Alice and I could really just hang together.

When I think about getting back in my room and planning for a new year, I do get pretty excited. Another year of lighting up young readers!

As usual, I need a little help. I’ve gotten some great new books for my classroom library, but I always need more. The more the kids read, the more, well, they WANT to read! So there are two ways you can support the addiction I hope to ignite for reading:

One is by choosing to purchase a book or two from our Classroom Library Wishlist. Everything on here is either requested by students or things I found I know they will love.

Another way is a fundraiser I am doing via Thirty-One. Whatever proceeds from what you buy via this “party” link, will go towards my classroom library and supplies. This is open to US shipping addresses only, but it’s a great way to get some great items and give to a great cause at the same time!

And lastly, if you’re not into buying books, I have a list of supplies I could use too! Each teacher in my school only gets $100 to spend. That doesn’t even cover the cost of one notebook per student for me (I have around 135 students). Therefore, I created a Supply Wish List as well.

I know I ask a lot and you all give a lot.

Please know writing these things and asking is hard for me. I am ashamed that we cannot afford to buy the things I need to make my classroom great. I am sad that my school doesn’t have enough funding to give every teacher unlimited access to great supplies for our students.

I was asked about supply lists by UpWorthy this week, and I admitted we (in Michigan) cannot even send supply lists home. Public schools here cannot require that students purchase anything for school. We must provide it. Truth be told, most of my students wouldn’t be able to afford supply lists anyway.

I want you to know that every donation makes my heart happy, but more than that, it helps students.

I want you to know that even if you can’t donate, your prayers for my students and sharing my need with others who may be able to donate is even more valuable than you can know.

I want you to know I love my job, but I hate the politics of it.

I want you to know I work for a district that loves LOVES its students and would give all this and more to my classes if it could. I don’t work for a stingy district. I work for one that has only one focus: kids’ learning.

I want you to know that I appreciate the ability to write this knowing somehow the supplies and books will come in and my students will have what they need.

Thank you.

And happy back to school! Let the learning begin!


Five Strategies for Writing

One of my objectives as a teacher is to have my students write every single day.

It’s also one of my goals as a writer. Even if I don’t hit publish on it, I sometimes need to “empty out the trash” in my head to get to the story “behind my eyes.”

Over the years I have used a bunch of things to generate content–including prompts–but I have found giving students (and myself) a strategy instead of a topic opens up the gates for MORE content and better content because it’s self-generated. This means that whatever it is that gets written about is something that the writer wants to write about and is personal.

Below are five strategies* I use often with my students…and for myself.



Write from a List

Many of us do this, right? Some of us keep little notebooks or scraps of paper or we use our drafts folder, but we have a list somewhere of possible blogging topics. Sometimes I just sit down and make Top Five Lists: five best experiences of my life, five worst experiences of my life, five things that surprise me, five things I love about my husband, five things I’ve done lately, five places I’ve been, etc.

After making a list I choose something to just freewrite about. You should see my draft folder. It’s a hot mess. There are started posts, there are posts that have lists in them with freewriting with them. I go to those posts and read around for something that inspires me and I often cut/paste stuff into a new post and boom! Something to hit publish on!

Writing off Literature

This is one I use with my students a lot and have recently found works well for me too. Writers are readers…at least they should be. I think it was Stephen King who said that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write; his point being that you can’t be a good writer without reading.  Writers live and breathe via words both taken in and written out.

“Good readers are thinking while they read,” and not just about the plot, but about the ideas. “Stories inspire stories.” Ideas inspire ideas.

You could even expand this to be Writing Off Lyrics or Poetry or Articles.  I get inspired by speeches and sermons and news clips.

Again I have quotes from these sources in draft–some with freewriting, some not–just waiting to be fleshed out.

Writing from a Word

This one is fairly simple: you pick a word, write it down and freewrite about it. I give my students a part of speech to pick like, “choose a verb, write it at the top of your paper.  Now write.”  It sounds so elementary, but when I do it myself (usually I pick a FEEEEELING word, but sometimes I choose something a students said, or a word I read, or something one of the boys said, whatever), I find I can get some of my best writing.  I’ve even written some not too shabby poetry that way.

Lifting a Line

This is one I have already alluded to in previous strategies. The idea is to go back through your writing (could be published or not) and “lift a line” that jumps out at you. Take that line and write it at the top of your entry. I’ve had students (and myself) do two things with this. Either write from that line as inspiration OR use that line exactly somewhere in a new piece.

I’ve also used this in class (and on my own) in conjunction with Writing off Literature. Pick a line from a text and either use it as inspiration or quote it in your piece.

Three by Threes

Choose a noun and give yourself three minutes to write as many three-word phrases about that noun as you can.  For example “School” could be the noun and a three-word phrase would be “seven period days”. The idea is to focus on the subject. It narrows down broad subjects.

Sometimes as writers we know we want to write about a big topic, but if we just start writing, soon we have 1,00+ word posts that no one will want to read! If you want to write about pregnancy, maybe give yourself three minutes to come up with as many three-word phrases about pregnancy as you can.  This will help you find a more focused subject for a post.


Hopefully you will find that these strategies help you if you get stuck. I have great success with them producing better writing from my students than just handing them a generic prompt that they may or may not care about.  All of these strategies start from personal choice and head into personal writing.

Have you used any of these strategies before? How do you come up with your blogging/writing content?

*Names for strategies and quotes come from the book Notebook Know How by Aimee Buckner (not an affiliate link). I have used all of these strategies myself and with my students.

way leading on to way

I’ve been listening to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ album, The Heist, a lot lately.

I’m not sure if that is either here nor there or if it has to do with anything. It’s just been my thinking music lately.

Anyway, I’m feeling…I don’t know what. Frustrated? Disappointed?  Sad. I’m feeling sad.

Last week I wrote about why the Common Core Standards are not evil. Of course, after that, I ended up seeing about fifty posts about why they are basically the anti-Christ.

I lost sleep over those posts.

I cried.

Why can’t they understand? Why can’t *I* make them understand?

Friday night, after midnight, I finally closed my Chromebook, and took my upset, worry-filled tummy to bed.  And tossed and turned all night.  I fretted all day Saturday.

I was encouraged to write another piece.

I don’t know.

Lately I feel like I am standing next to a huge…giant…ENORMOUS mountain.  If I squint, I can see the top through the fog and clouds. At the top I see a spot that I would totally look good on. I would be comfortable there. And I know, I KNOW I would rock that spot on the top of the mountain.

But then I let me eyes travel down from that spot on the top. Down the side, over the cliffs and crags, over and under the dangers and perils, until I get to my own two feet at the bottom of the mountain.

I look around me a the rather large hills that I climb each day. Some times I run up them and stand at the top with my arms raised.  Other times I pull myself up by sheer will power.

Other days I don’t quite make it to any of the tops of those hills.

And then I look back up that mountain.

I am so small.

I am just one person.

The internet is not my job. It’s not even my full-time hobby or passion.

Over the past six+ years, I have accumulated a small audience. A community I love. People out there who support my writing and push me forward in this thing called life with love and words.

But we are a small speck of the internet.

I’ve always been Ok with that because it’s never been my intent to leave teaching for writing. It’s never been my dream or goal to write a book. I have no intention of leaving this space behind, but I don’t have any plans to make a drastic life change either. I love to teach.

Let me say it again: I love to teach.

The Common Core is not my passion; teaching students is my passion.

I have a lot…a LOT…I could say in response to the outrage and rants out there on the internet by people who are not currently in education and who are basing their opinion of the Common Core on implementation strategies and procedures they are seeing in their schools or have “heard about”.

But the internet–and all those looking for a scandal and another reason to hate public schools–are not going to listen to me, a small blogger who happens to be a teacher.

No one cares about my credentials (over a decade of teaching experience, BA in English, MA with an emphasis on teaching English, member of the National Writing Project via the Third Coast Writing Project, member of the National Council of Teachers of English, high school English teacher, and adjunct English instructor at our local community college).

The fact is I am not going to write the next viral post on education.

Because posts that tell people about the good stuff that is going on due to a government-mandated change rarely go viral. Those posts get ten or so pat-on-the-back comments from people who already read that blog (which I love, by the way) and then the internet moves on to what it can be outraged about next.

If I could, I would take the internet into my district, into my school, and into my classroom. I would show you my students and their writing. I would introduce you to the families and the community.  I would let you see our brutal reality, but show you how we do such SUCH positive things every single day while following the Common Core. I would invite you to a department meeting, a staff meeting, a student meeting.

Shoot, forget about the Common Core. I don’t even care about it. What I care about is public education. I care about changing the perspective. I care about fixing the system.

I care about teaching kids. I care about making their future better.

I could climb that mountain and I could get to the top and I could be loud and proud up there.

But it’s just a big mountain.

And I’m so small.

So I will turn away from that mountain and leave it for another day.  Although, as my man Robert Frost said in a poem that is sort of famous, I know how “way leads on to way” and that I will probably  never come back.

I’d look good on top of that mountain.  I would.

But I can’t abandon the hills for the cause–or pride- of climbing a mountain.


On a totally different note, my friend Jennifer P. Williams is at the tail end of her 31 days of cookies series and yesterday she posted a recipe I sent her for Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies.

crippling expectations

A few weeks ago I bought a beautiful purple mum. I placed it on our stoop next to our front door under a fall wreath that I had created a couple years ago. Every time I pulled into our driveway, I smiled at the pretty pop of color it gave the house as all the rest of the plants had started to wither and brown.

Yesterday as I turned into our driveway, I noticed that my mums were all dried up and brown.

I had forgotten to water them.

Something was bound to give, I suppose. This is the paradox of this school year for me, and I was feeling it on Sunday.  The brown mums were the last straw, I guess you could say.

I love each and every opportunity and responsibility I have taken on this fall.

Having four sections of twelfth grade English has been so fun and such a great challenge. I love the immense responsibility of helping our school get it’s graduation rate up because it’s not just a number to me, it’s the 100 faces that show up in my classroom each day. For some of these kids it means they will be the first in their family to graduate.  That isn’t a statistic to me, it’s personal.

Last year I took on the volunteer task of doing Students of the Month at my school.  Each month I send out a survey to staff gathering nominations. Then I get to announce the winning students in each grade (one boy and one girl, so a total of six kids each month). But I don’t have it end there. I track down each student, have each fill out a profile questionnaire, and then pose for a photo. Then I ask their teachers to give me a sentence or two about the student. I take all that, combine it with their photos and post it on a bulletin board in the hall. I also submit it for the monthly school newsletter.

It’s a lot of work for no pay, but I adore it. The kids get such a proud smile when they find out they are chosen. And reading what their teachers say about them almost make me tear up. But my favorite part is watching students look at the bulletin board. It’s such a huge affirmation to our kids here.

Being back in the Community College classroom has been positive for me too.  I absolutely love teaching a class that is focused on writing. I love the discussion and the higher level of maturity I get with college students. I feel like I am able to stretch my teaching muscles in new ways through teaching this class.

On top of all that I am trying to keep up with freelance writing. I love the challenge of expository writing and researching content that I may not otherwise read about. I like practicing what I preach. I spend so much time teaching students to do good informational writing, but recently I haven’t done much of it myself. Unfortunately, when things get busy, this is the first thing I have to say no too.  And of course it’s the only one bringing me in some spending money for Christmas gifts, but I would rather give that up than give up time with my family.

This past weekend things caught up with me.

I have been diligently sticking to my time management plan, but  when 130 essays get turned in at once, things get squished.

Sunday I felt like I was failing everyone. I couldn’t grade fast enough. It consumed my entire day and evening. I wasn’t seeing my family, I wasn’t going fast enough to get the papers back to my students in a timely way.

I texted Cortney from where I sat in Starbucks armpit-deep in essays. I was crying and I told him I felt useless and horrible. He assured me I was neither and to just work through it one essay at a time.

Later when I complained that I was such a slow reader and commenter, he said, “no, you’re just really thorough. You want to give your students the tools to succeed. That is not a bad thing.”

He is right, but it makes me feel so awful.

I never feel good enough.

I have such high expectations of myself. I have such lofty goals.

I want 100% of my seniors to graduate this year.

I want 100% of my college students to get better at writing and start to like it a little bit.

I want to have a quick turn back rate so students (and parents) can understand where they are in terms of mastering my content.

I hate that it takes me weeks to get essays back.

I hate that it I can’t keep up with calling/meeting with students who are in danger of not graduating–that I run out of time to check on ALL their grades and touch base.

I wish I could give up sleep…or have an extra 12 hours added to each day just for sleeping, so the other 24 can be for other stuff. I don’t want to give up on my family or my students.

But sometimes it feels like I am failing people if I let myself sleep or watch TV or stare at Pinterest. Like I should be grading or writing or planning or doing something for someone else.  If there are items on my To Do List it seems that I am a waste if I am not working on them.

I know I have to put myself first or no one will get the best of me. I know this.

And yet…when I let myself go to bed after grading only one paper or I let myself play Words With Friends on my phone or I write this blog post instead of filing writing samples…I feel guilt.

Stupid guilt.

I take my jobs–all of them–very seriously. Very personally.

When I don’t meet my own expectations that I place on myself, I feel like I let everyone down.

pile-of-paperAm I putting too much pressure on myself? Should my expectations of myself be lower? Am I crippling myself with my expectations?

This is what I know: I can’t have high expectations of my kids–both my own and my students–if I don’t also have high expectations of myself…right?


Writing is a Process, Not a Product

All 110 of my seniors and my 20 college freshman just finished writing personal narratives. It took almost three weeks of hard work and revisions and peer-conferencing, but I have a huge stack waiting for a final grade.

For three weeks, writing was a process…to a product. Right?

Sort of.

My students and I definitely had an end product in mind as we dug through example after example of good writing and as we read and re-read our own writing.  But it was also a process.

It was the process most of my students…and you…are probably somewhat familiar with: brainstorming, drafting, revising, drafting, revising, drafting, editing, publishing.

Lots of my students hate this process because they feel like they could sit down, draft and publish.  Many of you have said to me, “I don’t really have a process.  I don’t revise or edit. I just do it all at once and hit publish.”

My answer, of course, would be that well, yes, you do have a process then. How successful it is for you probably has to do with how long you spend on what you call “drafting” before you “publish”.

But my point here is that most of the time, I am not looking at writing as being just the Writing Process, but also a Thinking Process.

PicMonkey Collage

I cannot imagine working through any of my thoughts or emotions without writing. Long before I was a wife or mother or any of life’s major challenges had come flying at me, I kept journals.  I have stacks of notebooks and journals of all different sizes and shapes.

I started one my freshman year of college.

I remember sitting in my dorm room alone.  My roommate had moved her stuff in and then went home for the weekend not to return until Sunday night before classes started.

I knew nobody on my floor and since I hadn’t been a party-er in high school, I wasn’t exactly great at walking up to new people and asking if they had any vodka.

My parents had taken me to the bookstore that day to help me get my books and any supplies. One purchase that day had been a spiral notebook with my college crest and name in gold on the cover. It was so much nicer than all my other notebooks, and I didn’t know what class would be worthy enough to have it’s notes put in it. So I had set it aside.

That first night in the dorms, as I felt alone and scared and homesick, I took out that notebook and I wrote my first journal entry. Over the course of the next couple years, I hauled it out sporadically when I needed to “write it out”. I remember writing about how no one tells you how angsty college life is…how the transition to college is way harder than the transition to high school that every is always gushing about.

That journal is shoved far in the back of Charlie’s closet under a bunch of other keepsakes (and among other journals) from my late teens/early twenties.

I stopped keeping a regular journal about four years ago when I started putting all those words here (I started this blog six years ago, but didn’t start “writing it out” here until more recently).

My point is, words like the ones I wrote yesterday are ones I didn’t have to explain how I felt until I wrote them down. Writing through pain, happiness, confusion, anger, joy, surprise, and so many more things have not just helped me to know how I think and feel, but it’s also given a voice to these experiences.

It’s made them real to me and to those who read my words.

This is why I have my students write every day. It is also why even though we do “publish” things, I try to teach them the process of writing…not just the drafting and revising stuff, but the thoughts that go into all those drafts and revisions.  All the brainstorming and just word vomiting onto paper for weeks before finding your subject or tone or voice.

It’s why I try hard to assign a type of essay and not give a specific prompt.

I want my students to learn what they know and what they don’t know and what makes them happy and confused and angry by writing through it all.

Blogging To End Hunger

sounds of a day

local news anchors reporting the weather, traffic, global events.

Cort’s ipod alarm music choice.

Sports Center

my shower and then his shower.

Octanauts…creature report!

da da da da da.

sleepy yawns and whines.

bye bye’s and more whines.

my engine turn over.



Mrs. Sluiter…did you get my…do you have grades done…he said…she said…did you hear…what about…I know this one….whine whine whine….laugh….that snappy sound teens make with their mouths…OMG!….Mrs. Sluiter…Mrs. Sluiter…MRS. SLUITER!


feet shuffling the halls.

coats and backpacks shushing in and out of doors and around the room.

typey typey.


sniffle sniffle cough cough.

papers rustling.

pages turning.

pencils scratching.

music…wait. music? TURN THAT OFF!


click click click.

pen to paper.

papers shuffling.

engines and music.


muh muh da da da da.

singing to music.

doors slamming.

coats and boots and bags shuffling.



water running and formula container shuffling.

juice pouring.

Wild wild wild krats!

water boiling.

oven beeping.

phone buzzing.

door slamming.


Da da da da! Mmmmmm!

plates and cups and forks and spoons and knives.


num num num.

I don’t want that. I don’t yike that. I won’t eat that. this is de-yis-us!

daily reports.

what did you do today?  did you have a great day?

work talk work talk

running water and snapping lids.

baths running and naked boys giggles.

running feet.

splashing water.

high pitched squeals and belly laughs.

snaps on jammies.

bottle sucking.

pipey sucking.

Octanauts…creature report!

you and me…solve a mystery…with Huckle!

nigh night.

shuffling feet.

stories read.

stories told.

fears shared.

reassurances given.

slow breathing.

Pipey sucking.

running water.

sheet situating.

humidifier humming.

slow breathing.


How do you like my new design? It’s not all the way done yet, but the big changes are here!  Yay!

I Ain’t Afraid of No Teenagers

Today I am the Guest Writer at Naked Girl in a Dress.  I am so honored to be chosen since her Guest Writers are always people I admire.


I am not good with little kids.

I mean, I have two little kids: an almost 3-year old and an 8-week old–both boys–and I LOVE them.  I think they are cute and funny and smart and awesome to hang out with.

But I don’t get them sometimes.

And they don’t get me.  They for sure don’t get my jokes.

Although I have trained them to laugh with me.

(WITH me, people.  Not AT. WITH.)

Many of my fellow moms with smalls talk about how terrified they are of the TEEN  YEARS.

I am so not nervous.

Not even a little bit.

continue reading my words at Naked Girl in a Dress

Banned Ham {or why I have high expectations for my students}

Today this conversation happened in my second hour Spanish 2 class:

Me: From here on out the saying, “Going HAM” is banned from this classroom.*

Students:  Why?  Because it stands for bad language?  It’s a song, Mrs. Sluiter.

Me:  I am aware of the song.  I think we might even have the album at home.  Or not.  Probably not.  Do you know why?  Because “Going HAM” is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.  I think the day I heard it, I got a tad dumber.

Students: ::chuckling:: YOU know that song?

Me: Yes. We listen to the rap.  And while I could go on and on about how ridiculous and offensive the whole song is and how it makes me sad for Jay-Z that he collaborated on such a piece of garbage, my point here is that HAM? is a lunch meat.  Going ham sounds like something you are doing for lunch.  It does not sound like you are all hard and bad.  It sounds like you are craving pork. And really?  If you look at what it stands for it should be Going HAAMF.  Yeah, not as catchy, but more accurate.  So on the basis of good taste, accuracy, and overall common sense, I am going to have to ban that phrase from this classroom.

Students:  ::in between dying from laughter:: Ok, you have a point.  Can we say “Going Hard in the Paint”?

Me: Is that a basketball reference?

Students:  Yes.

Me:  While it’s still sort of dumb, it makes more sense.  So yes.  You may say that.

Students:  Deal.  Oh, and Mrs. Sluiter?  You have been Going Hard in the Paint this week on grades.  Good job.

Me:  Gee.  Thanks.

::end scene::

Why did I tell you this?

It’s not because I want to discuss rap lyrics and why teenagers are allowed to listen to it (if they are like me?  They probably aren’t allowed to, but they do anyway.  I mean, that’s what I did).

It’s not because I want to tell you how yes, Cort and I listened to (and still do listen to) music with vulgarity in it (but not in front of Eddie.  Because that kid loves music so much, he memorizes everything he hears.  Currently he is in love with “Brass Monkey” by The Beastie Boys).

I’m telling you this because I see the 100+ kids that walk through my classroom each day as my own.  And if Eddie tried to tell me he was Going Ham on his homework?  I would have had this same conversation with him.

I am honest and forward with my students.  The same way I would be with my own child.

This extends beyond just dumb rap lyrics.

Yesterday my Quarter 2 grades were due.  I had an obnoxious number of students failing because they weren’t turning in their work.

I told each and every one of those students that I was disappointed in them.  I told each of those students that this doesn’t fly with me.

I had kids argue that my standards were too high. That I expected too much.

I thought about this claim, and realized that what I expect from them is no less than what I would expect from Eddie.

When Eddie is in high school I will expect him to do his class work and his homework and study for tests and prepare for class.  I expect him to make up work in a timely manner if he is absent.  If he does have problems and do poorly or fail, I expect him to do what he can to right the matter as soon as he can.

Why would I expect less from my students?

They are not my  children, but….they are.

They are someone’s.

And regardless of whether those parents are still there for the kids, or whether something has happened along the way to where they are now, for the hour they are with me?  They are mine.  And I will treat them that way.

I will hold them to high standards.

I will expect them to treat me and others the way I teach my son to treat me and others.

And I will honestly tell them that Going Ham is the dumbest thing ever.

*warning: this is a Kayne West song and it includes vulgarity that may not be appropriate for work.