An Ace Up Your Sleeve


Photo CC-aquarian_insight

You know the saying, “Always have a trick up your sleeve?” It’s fairly common, while it may originally applied to cards it has become a catch all for many topics. The YALSA website and corresponding blog The Hub are definitely tricks to have up your sleeve. In just the hour or so I spent browsing I found plenty of books to add to be TBR list as well as different ideas for my own classroom.

I started by looking at some of the different awards that the ALA gives out. I was aware of the Printz award, but there were other awards that I learned a lot about. These included the Edwards Award, Alex Awards, and Morris Award. Within these awards you can find a lot of good suggestions for books. The Alex Award is given to books that are written for adults, but appeal to YA audiences, while the Morris Award is given to first time YA authors. You can look at these awards for ideas for books for your students, or you can use them to support new authors and start to give them a platform in your classroom or library.

I also discovered that the YALSA has recently launched the Teen Book Finder Database. The database has over 4,000 books listed in it. The books range through different types of genres, but many of them are award winners as well. Not only that, but the database is also available in the form of a smartphone app. They have a link on their page that’s pretty easy to use. I even downloaded the app and started looking through it. There is actually a lot there. I suggest that you all check it out!

As far as The Hub I thought it was really great. I started off by looking at the yearly reading challenge. Basically the challenge helps you to try and read all of the newly released award winners. It seems like quite a challenge, but it could be something that you could encourage your students to take part in. I liked that the different posts dealt with current events and books that built off of it. For example there is a post about NASA’s recent planet discoveries. Included in the post are several books that deal with teen’s in space. There is another post dealing with strong women leads. I like the way that this is organized in topic form. That way if you send your students here they can dig around and look for book options.

As for myself I definitely picked up some new books to read in the future. These are just a few:

  • These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glen Ringtved (This one looks like a definite tear jerker)
  • Hunted by Megan Spooner
  • The Smell Of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

There are several more, but these were the one’s I thought looked the most interesting! I loved this and I will definitely be bookmarking these for the future.


It’s Monday! What are You Reading? 3.27.17

Well, after some marathon reading I managed to get both of my books completed this week. Thankfully they balanced each other out well or it would have also been a highly emotional marathon.

First up, Deadline by Chris Crutcher. As we discussed in book club on Thursday this book Image result for deadline chris crutchertakes you on an emotional roller coaster. The book follows lead character Ben Wolf who has just found out that he has one year to live. From the moment he finds this out to the end of the book he decides he is going to try and make an impact on his small Idaho town. It’s his senior year of high school and instead of doing cross country like the previous three years he turns out for the football team, decides to take on the town drunk, and his ultraconservative history teacher, as well as go for his crush Dallas Suzuki. Oh, did I mention he decides not to tell anyone that he is dying, or get treated?

Pros: This book deals a lot with death. Ben has to work through what his death will mean, and what death is ultimately. There are a lot of different coping mechanisms put in place here that students can learn a lot about. It also gives you a chance to think about death in a few different ways than normal. Also, Ben really focuses on leaving a positive mark on his town. He’s dying. This book could have gone anyway, but Crutcher chooses to have it go positively.

Cons: This book will make you cry a lot. Okay not really a con, but my only other thing that bugged me was that the cover picture was upside down (probably not a good reason to dock a book). Seriously, this book doesn’t do anything you would expect it to, and the ending will throw you for a loop.

Image result for nimonaNext up: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Yes, another graphic novel. I promise this is my last one for a little while…maybe. Anyway, this book is about Nimona, a young girl who wants to become the sidekick for notorious villain Lord Ballister Blackheart. Although Nimona isn’t exactly just a little girl, she is also a shapeshifter. The book follows the development of a friendship between Nimona and Blackheart.

Pros: This book deals a lot with friendship. I mean a lot. I think you could say that it is one of the main aspects of the book. Blackheart learns that sometimes being friends with someone means accepting all of their flaws. He does everything he can to make sure she stays safe, and to take care of her even though she can be a little crazy at times. Also, their is a sort of haziness surrounding who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. I think the book gives a really good lesson on taking things at face value. It teaches you to look at the facts, and not just what you are told. I think that is a good lesson to get students thinking about.

Cons: This is one of the first graphic novels where I actually struggled to keep up with what was going on inside the pictures of the story. The frames jumped around really fast and sometimes the frames without words were hard to understand. I think one of the things that makes a graphic novel good is the ability to use pictures in a way that they don’t always need words. I’m not sure why I felt like there was a lack of clarity, but it was something that caused a distraction for me and added confusion. Other than that I really loved this book.

I highly recommend that you all check out either of these books. They are both really great. I’m off to Kentucky this week for the International Sigma Tau Delta convention in Louisville, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get some good reading done while I’m there. Have a great week everyone!


Making the Best of Social Media

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Photo CC-Dana Spiegel

Oh social media, that thing that just seems to suck away time (and our productivity). In fact, I’ve started this post almost three times now only to be distracted by Facebook. It also seems to have become this control factor in our lives, especially our teen’s lives. Is there a way to use it positively though? After spending an hour sifting through articles, and looking at different sites I think there is a way that we as teachers can have some good come from this. Some of our students’ favorite social media sites can actually be used to enhance their reading lives. I found some interesting things while digging around.

I started my digging on Goodreads because I figured that would be a good spot to start. I can see a lot of good coming out of introducing your students to Goodreads. First off you can use it to track what your students are reading, you can have them make a ‘to read’ list (as Kittle suggested), or they can get involved in conversations about their favorite books. They can leave their own book reviews or they can read other’s reviews. Reading the reviews allows them to see whether a book is something they would enjoy, or not. I also discovered the group settings on Goodreads. I found a teen board that is dedicated to discussing different books, characters, and so on. From what I understand it is also possible to create your own group which would allow your students to be able to discuss books in a sort of chat room type area that is still moderated fairly well.

Next up I started looking at blogs. There are actually several blogs out their for teen readers. Two that I really enjoyed looking at were Reading Rants and Teenreads. Teenreads is actually pretty cool because it is run mostly by a board of teens from all of the world. It is definitely an interesting site to check out. These two sites both provide a space to start conversations about books, and look for new books to check out. Having teens blog about books themselves also isn’t a bad idea. Blogging allows you to connect writing to reading, but also allows students to use their own voice to tell about the book that they have read.

Wattpad. I noticed a few other people have talked about it so I will just briefly touch on it. While Wattpad isn’t specifically teen writers and readers, it is targeted more toward that age group. It was something that I really loved in high school, and does have some good in allowing kids to access new books, different ideas, or even get suggestions for authors. While this site is great, there also is a question about quality. Often books remain unfinished, or authors take forever to post. This can lead to a lot of frustration, and cause problems.

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc… I’m going to group these all together because I think they are pretty related. You could also probably through Snapchat into this mix as well. These apps are all great for networking with authors or looking into the lives of authors. You can follow many YA authors on all four of these platforms. You can also tweet at your favorite authors, and surprisingly enough sometimes they will answer you back. These are also places where students can share their reading experiences with the rest of the world.

The last place I want you all to look at is Skype. I know it seems an odd inclusion to this list, but I think it does have some merit. I’ve seen Skype used effectively in reading classrooms several times. One of the ways I’ve seen Skype used was book discussions. A group of teachers from several schools got together and had their students read different books. The teachers then organized a Skype call in which the different classes were able to share opinions and develop a discussion about the books. Also, you can organize Skype calls with librarians and even authors.

Social media may not be the greatest, but since we are stuck with it why not use it for some good. I’ve just touched on a few of the many ways you can use social media in your classroom. I suggest you look into it even more because I’m sure you’ll find an idea worth using.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Graphic novels! I’m hooked and I can’t seem to get off of them. They are so quick to read, plus filled with so many diverse characters. I kid you not, I’ve encountered many more diverse characters in the handful of graphic novels that I’ve read over the past few weeks than any of the novels I’ve been working through (with the exception of The Born Free’s of course). Sadly I only managed to get through one book completely this week, but I am well on my way to finishing my other two books.

The one book that I did get through was Drama by Raina Telgemeier. I was drawn to this book because I like all things acting, and this book did not disappoint. The book follows 7th grader Callie as her middle school prepares to put on their very own performance of “Moon over Mississippi.” Callie loves all things drama, but unfortunately she was blessed with a singing voice. Instead, she determines to make the props and set for the show the absolute best anyone has ever seen. This book focuses on awkward crushes, friendship, and trying to navigate the waters between both as a 7th grader.

Pros: This book prominently displays several diverse characters. It’s main claim to diversity is that one (or more) of the characters is openly gay, or on the way to becoming openly gay. Although Callie isn’t the gay character she does befriend and help make these characters into the stars of the show. There is a lot in here about being open to other’s and building each other up. There is also a lot about relationships. There is heartbreak, and confusion, and maybe relationships, some tears, and some laughs as Callie and her friends try to figure out just what it means to have a crush or even date for that matter.

Cons: Callie meets two brothers (twins) at the beginning of the book, and I’ll be honest it was really hard for me to tell which one was talking sometimes. In fact, I often got their character traits messed up. Their names also both start with J so that doesn’t help much either. Now, I’m not going to dock this book because I wasn’t able to keep the characters straight, but I will warn you that it can get a bit confusing at times. Other than that I can’t really think of anything that really turned me away, or made me question this book.

Overall, I loved this book. It’s funny and quirky with the right amount of reality sprinkled into the story. I’d highly suggest reading it. FYI I did just turn it in to the library today, so you might want to wait a little bit before rushing to get it. Also, you’ll never see the ending coming.


I’ve also been reading Deadline by Chris Crutcher and Nimona by Noelle Stevenson so far both books are great, and I can’t wait to tell you all about them next week! Happy reading everyone 🙂


Secrets to Teaching Reading


Photo CC-Thomas Life

I am blessed. That’s the realization I have come to over and over this week while reading. I never really stopped to think before what it meant to have people in my life that valued books and reading. I’ve never stopped to think about the impact that they had on my life. The hours that my mom spent reading to me as a child, or patiently waiting on me to struggle through the words on a page because I wanted to show her just how much I was improving. We are increasingly becoming more aware of the impact that reading aloud has on our students. My parents valued reading a lot. They have always encouraged my siblings and I to continue to develop our reading skills. I actually used to get books under my pillow from the tooth fairy instead of quarters, which honestly I thought was cooler. My elementary teachers used to read to us over our lunch hour, while we enjoyed the various homemade lunches that had been packed for us that day. I attended a country school, so things were done a little differently.

My point with all this is I don’t really think about how blessed I was growing up. I never think about how being read aloud to helped make me into the reader that I am today. I never thought about my teacher’s pushing me to read books that I enjoyed helped make me into the vivacious reader that I became, but I’m starting to see just how they did it.

Step One: Read Aloud to Your Students

Not every student will be blessed to have parents that read to them aloud. The benefits of having a book read aloud are numerous. In fact, reading books aloud can actually help students develop better comprehension skills and vocabulary (A Curriculum Staple: Reading Aloud). This doesn’t mean just reading to those kids in elementary school, but to our high school and middle school students as well. Reading aloud helps to take strain of the brain and allow students to enjoy and comprehend what is being read to them. One of the teachers I observed during O&P, who taught 7th & 8th grade reading, explained to me that by reading aloud in class, and by using methods such as ‘popcorn reading, she had been able to improved students’ comprehension and identify areas where certain students were struggling. It also gave her the opportunity to point out things such as style, description, and define vocabulary words.

Step Two: Encourage Your Own Students to Read Books that they Enjoy

I’ve talked a lot about Penny Kittle’s suggestions for reading in the past, so I’ll keep this one short. Having teachers that aren’t focused on just the classics allows students to develop their love for reading. We have to read that students can actually improve when they are reading books that they enjoy. One thing I love about Kittle is her book talks. In these talks she gives students the opportunity to learn about books that they might enjoy. This opens the door for students to actually find books that they can read.

Step Three: Understand that Reading Leads to Learning

Reading is so important, and I’m not talking about just reading the classics and dissecting them. Reading does many things. We hear all the time how reading continues to advance our own vocabulary, and overall make us more knowledgeable. What some people don’t know or choose to ignore is that reading also makes us better writers. Stephen King even says in his book “On Writing” that one of the best ways to become a better writer is to read, read, read. More reading leads to better writing, and better writing leads to better communicators. We don’t realize how much we pick up from reading, but those who read more often better understand grammar, comma usage, and sentence structures. This is all just because they have been reading books by good writers. Kittle also points out that through her book conferences she is able to accomplish several things. She is able to push students to try books that are harder, and test things like comprehension without the students even realizing what she is doing.


In order to help our students we have to be willing to try new things, and speaking from past experience I never would have become the reader that I am today if people hadn’t taken the time to do these things in my life.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 3.13.17

I love Spring Break! For a whole week you don’t have to think about school, and you can (hopefully) do pretty relaxing things. My break mostly consisted of me laying on the couch reading, and watching Netflix. Since I had so much time to read I managed to get through quite a few books, plus the books I read the week before break as well.

The first book was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, which I finished just in time for book club. The book itself is about a young boy named Jacob who goes to an island while investigating his grandfather’s odd death. On the island he discovers Miss  Peregrine’s home, and learns the truth about his grandfather’s past, whileImage result for miss pereguines home for peculiar children making decisions about his own future.

Pros: I really liked the way this book flowed. It was an interesting read, and definitely took me out of my element at times. It has a darker element to it than most fantasy books, and to be honest it’s strange. All this being said, I think that it all added to the story, and made it unique. Something that Riggs does is compliment his stories with old vintage photos, and these aren’t really the good kind either. Think creepy circus acts that you hear rumors about, but aren’t around anymore and that pretty much describes these pictures. What’s great, however, is that these pictures supplement the story so well. It’s like Riggs shaped his story so that it would fit the pictures, which I thought worked really well.

Cons: Why is it that so often we end up hating the main character of the book? Okay, well that isn’t true, but I feel like lately I like the supporting characters in my books way more than I like the main character, and this book really was that. I don’t know why, but Jacob really didn’t feel realistic to me. There were different parts of the novel that I felt were unrelatable because of how unrealistic they were. I guess that made a big difference in how much I enjoyed the book.

I honestly don’t have a lot to say positive or negative about this book because I’m still trying to figure it all out myself. I think in a way it was too dark and mysterious for me. If you like dark and creepy novels, then this is a great book. If you don’t I think it’s a good novel for you to a least diversify your reading.

The remaining two books that I took in over break were graphic novels. I hadn’t really ever read much in the way of graphic novels before so this was a new adventure for me. It was, however, an adventure that was very much overdue.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

This book is split up into three different stories that eventually intertwine with each other. The first is a story from China about a monkey king that isn’t really satisfied with being a monkey. The second a young boy who has moved to America, and is trying to adapt to the new culture, and fit in. The third a boy who’s cousin comes to visit from China, and ends up embarrassing the crap out of him.

Pros: This book challenges you to think about the stereotypes that we commonly put on those from Asian countries, specifically China. It forces you to look at their culture, and to understand that it is just as beautiful and rich as our own. The story of the monkey king Image result for chinese born americanhas some pretty great life lessons to be taught. The monkey king continually tries to prove that he is not a monkey, and is continually admonished for trying to be something he is not. If he was supposed to be a human after all he would have been made a human. It’s something to think about. The book examines what it means to be a citizen of two different countries, and it makes you look hard at the cultural adjustments that we sometimes force kids to fit into so that they are normal in our eyes. There is a lot of lessons and morals hidden in these pages.

Cons: Honestly can’t think of one. GO READ THIS BOOK!


Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

If you’re like me your life is a series of one awkward encounter after another, but those really awkward years definitely came in middle school. It’s Peppi’s first day at her new middle school, and already things are getting awkward. After running into the school nerd, and then being made fun of, Peppi does the one thing she can to save her reputation, she pushes said nerd away and tells him to stay away from her. An act that she regrets for much of the story. Peppi is also a very active member of the school art club which is currently at war with the school science club. You could definitely say that the two clubs Image result for awkward svetlana chmakovaget hilariously creative when it comes to getting back at each other.

Pros: This book was super treatable, and fun to read. I enjoyed every minute of it. It was super light-hearted with a lot of deep lessons sprinkled in. The characters that appear in this book are very diverse. Peppi herself is hispanic, and many of her friends also represent different ethnicities and religions. The book itself deals with the awkward stages of making friends, being new, and trying to fit in. It also deals with issues such as divorce, theft, and being the better person. It all works together to create a story that is fun, and really draws you in.

Cons: Again, none. Please add this book to your reading list. I loved it!

A Fairly Incomplete and Confusing Guide to Diverse Reading in my Own Life

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Diversity. We talk about it a lot, we emphasis how important it is, and yet do we practice it? Last week we took a look at the some of the staggering statistics about diverse books. However, what I mainly focused on was the lack of different races within the books we read, and that we focus on. Diversity is more than just races. We as people are diverse, and that’s not just because we have different backgrounds, it’s because each of us is, essentially our own person. Just like rocks, or seashells, or snowflakes we all are different. Now of course there are overlaps, and that’s good because it allows us to find people that have had similar experiences as us. Except what happens is we tend to get focused on our little groups, with our specific comfort zones, and then we forget to take time to learn about all those other little groups out there. What happens when we do this? I believe that it leads to a sort of education gap. If allowed this gap can lead to serious gaps between people who are different. I can’t remember the book for the life of me, but there was a quote in it that has stuck with me ever since I read it, “People hate what they don’t understand.” So how do we bridge this gap? Of course the answer that I’ll give you is diversity, but why?

I believe that diversity can be split into three distinct parts within the world of books: characters, authors, and genres.

Characters: Each of us is different. We’ve established that. At least I hope that we established that. So, in order to read diversely we need to read about different people. Yes, it’s important to read about the life of a person who is a different race than you. It’s awesome to see characters of Asian or African-American descent as the heroes of our novels because not only does it teach us about a different race it can often teach us about a different culture, but these aren’t the only differences in people. What about characters who have different sexual orientations? These characters are just important because they show us something that we may not understand or know how to handle. Then there are characters that have disabilities. I spend over an hour this week looking at articles on a blog called Disability in Kidlit. It was intriguing to me because it showed me this whole new world of characters that are underappreciated in YA literature. These are just a few types of the different characters that you can encounter within the world of diverse characters. You can also take into account economic status, age, and family organization. These characters allow us to look at what it means to be them, and allow us to gain understanding  of the people in the world that they represent.

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Photo CC-Brooke Duckart

Authors: What drives someone to write a book? Why do they want to share a story with you? Does an author’s own experiences affect the book that they write? In Stephen King’s, On Writing, he tells us that an author always starts with what they know and then builds from there. Often the history of the author will have a huge impact on what the author writes. When you are reading books by different authors you are also allowing yourself to learn about another person. If in class you teach Uncle Tom’s Cabin you will probably spend time looking at Harriet Beecher Stowe and her life to teach your students about the background she was writing from. Just like this when we read books by diverse authors it also allows us to learn about different people and different backgrounds.

Genres: I know this doesn’t really fit into the typical idea of diverse reading, but I think it’s important so please bear with me. Say you only read romance novels. Of course, within the genre of romance you can find books about all sorts of diverse authors and characters, but how does that challenge you as a reader? How does that push you outside your comfort zone? Answer, it doesn’t. Being a diverse reader you means opening yourself up to new worlds, and gaining knowledge about those worlds. So yes, romance novels are great, but what about historical fiction, science fiction, or a good mystery? I’m saying this for myself as much as for anyone else.

From what I’ve gathered we all have two things in common: a love for books, and a love for teaching. My question is how can we encourage our students to read diversely if we ourselves don’t practice. Being read in different genres also helps you not only to be able to suggest books within a students preferred genre, but to know what they like in a plot so that they can check out a book that might be in a different genre.  I think diverse reading is important for everyone. It allows us the opportunity to learn about people, and things that are different from ourselves, as well as to help our students to find books that they may be

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able to connect with.

At the beginning I talked about bridging the gap. Diverse readers helping students to become diverse readers takes us one step closer to bridging that gap. It gives us the opportunity to help our students learn about the differences in the world. It allows us to show those students who may have those differences that they are just as important as everyone else. Introducing diverse books won’t be easy. There will be those who complain and argue, but it is our job to fight for our students’ rights to access books that will inform them about the people they are living with on this planet.

I also want to clarify one thing. When I say diverse reader I don’t mean someone that challenges themselves to read a book outside of their comfort zone once ever two months. I mean someone who makes it a habit have reading diverse books. I mean that it is natural for you to read a book with a Caucasian main character one week, and a Native American the next. I think a well-rounded reader is someone who continually pushes themselves outside of their comfort zone, and allows themselves to always be open to a new and different book. Being diverse isn’t a challenge we try and accomplish every now and then it’s a lifestyle that we adapt and make our own. It isn’t easy, and it’s not something that I’m very good at, but hey the first step to fixing every problem is admitting that you have one.