Category Archives: Books

My Summer of Reading

Ahhh… I love summer!  Time to relax, turn a darker shade of pasty, hang out with the munchkins, and READ!  There are several books on my “done” list and several still on my “to read” list.  I’ll share my two lists and keep you up-to-date.  Also, the hyperlinks bring you to the Amazon listing and review… you know, for your convenience. 🙂

Books I’ve Read

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – Okay, so please don’t throw tomatoes at me.  I enjoyed the book.  I cried and laughed. But honestly, I didn’t like it nearly as much as Looking for Alaska.  Green develops the characters well and I appreciated the humor and realness of the plot. I can definitely see why teens enjoy it and why it was turned into a movie (which, by the way, I haven’t seen…).  I just feel that it was extremely predictable.
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – I’m not kidding.. this should be on everyone’s “To Read” list.  A phenomenal book about the struggle of introverts in our society to fit in and feel “normal” when extroverts clearly have the preferred personality type.  I always considered myself an extrovert, but after reading, I realized that I am a pseudo-extrovert or an amnivert (a mix of the two).  I see so many applications for me as a parent, spouse, teacher, church-goer… I can’t say enough about this book!  I am SO pumped to facilitate a book club for this book in my school district.
  • Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana – So this book was a freebie at the International Reading Association Convention this year.  I didn’t have high hopes.  But I picked it up in June… and finished it the next day.  It’s a riveting story about a 10-year-old girl’s plight to survive Hurricane Katrina and care for her 2 younger siblings after she is separated from her parents.  I bawled and I didn’t want the book to end.  Lamana is a brand-new author who, as an educator, helped orphaned/lost children after the Hurricane.  Her emotional connection to the event was clear, and I hope she writes more books.
  • Perfect by Rachel Joyce – We read this for the book club I participate in with my husband.  We’ve read some amazing books, but this wasn’t one of them.  Constant flipping between perspectives and time periods, slow character development, and very few characters that I actually liked.  But I did enjoy the discussion and snacks at our meeting. 🙂

Books I Plan to Read

YA Books

  • The Bully Book by Eric Kahn Gale – This is one of the books for the WI Battle of the Books competition, and I’ve been asked to write questions for it.  I’m excited for the opportunity!  Reviews are very positive and summaries have me intrigued.
  • Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth – It’s a guilty pleasure.  Don’t judge me.
  • Endangered by Eliot Schrefer – This was a National Book Award finalist that I bought off of Amazon.  I may not get to it, but I hope I can!
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz – This is another award winner from this year.  Unfortunately, my plans to read this were thwarted by a fire-alarm-pulling 8th grader who borrowed it before I got to read it and was suspended for the rest of the school year for her antics before I could get the book back.  Arg.  Still waiting for it from the library.

PD Books

Well, that’s all for now.  What books do YOU suggest for me?  I’d love to hear your reviews and suggestions!


A Lesson I Learned about Teaching Writing

Before I explain the lesson I learned, I have an anecdote to share. (It may seem unrelated, but trust me, it makes sense.)

At a family birthday party last night, my nephew received a present.  There were free backpacks in the house donated to my mother-in-law by somebody or other, so my resourceful sister-in-law took one and wrapped my nephew’s present in it.  As she handed my nephew his backpack-encased Legos, she said jokingly, “Look!  A bookbag! Isn’t it just what you always wanted?”  Not realizing there were Legos inside the bag, he replied forlornly,  “Well, not exactly.”

Lately, I’ve been cramming in a lot of teacher books that I should have read a while ago but didn’t make the time to read.  Now that I’m supposed to be an expert on all this stuff, I figured I should make the time.  I picked up the book Teaching Adolescent Writers by Kelly Gallagher first because I get extremely tired of students coming up to me with essays asking, “Is this good?”  To which, like my nephew, I want to reply, “Not exactly.”  (Actually, there are occasions where I would like to say, “Um, no, this is not good. What the frick were you thinking?” but decide it would be hurtful to my students.)

From Gallagher’s book, I picked up a few key points.  I STRONGLY encourage you to read (or at least skim) this book if you teach writing because it’s got some great ideas, suggestions, and honesty. Here are the key points I got:
1) Don’t prepare samples ahead of time.  Kids need to see your writing and thinking process.  Otherwise, they think an essay should magically be good in one draft.
2) Don’t grade an essay the first time you read it.  Skim it and pick less than 10 areas on which to comment, then return to students so they can edit/revise before grading.
3) Keep track of common errors while you read first drafts. Do mini-lessons with whole or small groups on areas in need of reinforcement, then allow them to seek you out for conferences individually.
4) Create the rubric WITH your students.  Pick a few areas on which to focus for the essay (and do your mini-lessons on those during the initial pre-writing/drafting process) and show them good and great examples.  Fill in the areas of the rubric with them, then allow them to choose 1-2 additional areas that they’ve been working on with their personal essays. (You approve these, of course.)
5) For goodness’ sake, DON’T PEER EDIT!  Peer REVISING is okay when you assign specific goals for the revising, but kids tend to ignore errors or “correct” non-mistakes when peer editing, so pick a few kids who are the “grammar police” in your class and point them out as resources for kids while editing.

Well, this is my insight. I see a professional development session forming in my brain…

I would love to hear your suggestions for additional teacher reads. I’m going to be re-skimming I Read It, But I Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani and Strategies that Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.  I will also be taking a 3 day workshop on CRISS (can’t remember what it stands for, but it’s reading/writing/learning strategies that my new district swears by).  More on those later…



Maximum Ride Series

Well, I’ve been working my way through the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson.  Young adult series, as is my trend in reading.  Basically, it’s about a group of kids who have been genetically altered with avian (bird) DNA.  They have wings.  Early on in the series, they escaped from their “dog crates” (as the main character Max calls their previous dwelling) and continue to fight to survive in a world where they don’t know who they can trust.  The main character, Maximum Ride, is a sassy teenager with maternal instincts for her “flock” (adoptive family of bird kids) and extreme fighting skills.

In each book, the chapters are 3-5 pages each and each book is divided into subsections.  If you are looking for some easy summer reads, these books are definitely for you.  I actually found myself laughing out loud when I was reading because of the wit and sarcasm of Max.  Plus, there’s a little love interest stuff going on (but just kissing and stuff… nothing above PG here people), which doesn’t hurt the story’s integrity one bit.

The last book in the series is slated to come out in February 2012.  Right now, there are 7 books:
Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment
School’s Out… Forever
Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports
The Final Warning

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  I’m thinking about using this as a read-aloud with my 8th graders at school this year.  Enjoy!

Oh, and if you’re looking for additional information, here’s a link to the website!