Monday, January 28, 2013

A day celebrating authors, books, and readers: ALA Youth Media Awards

Today was the day book lovers all over the country have been waiting for. This is our Oscars: The American Library Association's Youth Media Awards, which include the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott awards.

The awards were livestreamed on ALA's website and I was so excited to get to watch the results unfold with all the people in attendance today. It was a day of emotional reactions, both joyous and disappointing, but I absolutely loved being able to experience them happen in real time.

I'll start with my disappointment. I thought for sure John Green's The Fault in Our Stars was going to AT LEAST win a Printz honor, if not win the whole thing, but when it came up empty, I was utterly shocked and saddened. TFiOS was not only the most beautiful book I read in 2012, but also of my entire life. Given how many people so strongly reacted to the events and characters of that novel, I couldn't believe when its name was not announced today. A small consolation was that it won the Odyssey award for outstanding audiobook production (though my very opinionated self thinks The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, narrated by Bronson Pinchot should have won the Odyssey award)

I was also saddened that my other favorite book of 2012 came up empty of any awards today, Wonder by RJ Palacio.

But my sadness was soon overshadowed by joy when the Newbery award was announced: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. To know how many #NerdyBookClub members absolutely adored this book, with our friend Colby Sharp leading the charge, it's no wonder I screamed when the winner was announced, and then the tears started flowing. And to know that the real Ivan died the year this book was published, it makes this tribute to him all the sweeter. I still get teary-eyed thinking about it. To give you an idea of how much Colby has been leading the campaign for The One and Only Ivan to win the Newbery, the first person I tweeted right after the announcement was Colby. The second person I tweeted was Katherine Applegate.

As a cherry on top of this wonderful day, another #NerdyBookClub favorite won the Caldecott award: This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. I only just read this book over the weekend (I've had it on hold forever) and I have to say, I loved it more than I Want My Hat Back. But that's probably because I Want My Hat Back was not a book that I warmed up to immediately. It's one I had to think about and share with students before I realized just how brilliant it is.

Despite my relief and happiness that my school had a snow day today, I am a little sad that I wasn't able to share watching the announcement of the awards with my class. The One and Only Ivan was our first read aloud of the year so I know my students would have been elated to experience hearing it be announced as the Newbery winner. At the very least, we have lots to talk about and celebrate tomorrow.

Young Adult Giveaway Hop

For my portion of the blog hop, I am giving away an ARC of The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson.

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Expected Publication: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Pages: 304
Genre: Dystopia
Format: Advance Reader Copy
Disclosure: ARC acquired at NCTE conference

Goodreads Summary:
A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.

The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.

Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

Terms and Conditions:
You must be 13 or older to enter and have a U.S. mailing address
One winner will be chosen
Use the Rafflecopter widget to enter 

It's Monday! What are You Reading? 1-28-13

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee  over at Teach Mentor Texts also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Happy Newbery day! I am flush with excitement over who will come out as winners at the ALA Youth Media Awards today!

Speaking of Newbery, last week was an awesome week for my students because we were able to Skype with 3-time Newbery honor author Jennifer Holm, and then the next day we Skyped with debut author Christopher Healy, who wrote the hilarious The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. Check out my post about it here.

Speaking of The Hero's Guide, last week I finished reading:

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle which comes out on April 30th. My students know I have the ARC of this book and many of them are a tad irked that it's taken me so long to finish it.

Last week I finished listening:

Need by Carrie Jones
The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett

Other books I read and enjoyed last week:
Babymouse: Heartbreaker by Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm
Please, Puppy, Please! by Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Currently reading:

Notes from Ghost Town by Kate Ellison

Currently listening:

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Friday, January 25, 2013

My Year in Meals by Rachael Ray/My Year in Cocktails by John Cusimano

Rachael Ray's latest cookbook effort is a two-fer. She teamed up with her husband to make My Year in Meals and My Year in Cocktails.

Both Ray and Cusimano chronicled all the meals and cocktails they made for an entire year and photographed the dishes with their own cameras without the help of a professional photographer and food stylist. Given that Ray has published so many cookbooks, I have to tip my hat to her for trying something new and different, but I'm not entirely sure this effort was a success, in my opinion anyway. When I look through a cookbook, I want the pages to be sleek and minimalist so as to let the food speak for itself. I found the pages of this cookbook to be much too busy and difficult to follow, with many different photos, dates, recipes, and fonts on each page. I didn't feel inspired to cook when thumbing through the pages of this book; I felt overwhelmed.

If there is a redeeming quality to this book, however, it's actually the My Year in Cocktails section. The pages in this section of the book have much less "stuff" and so the drinks can speak for themselves. And I have to say, I am quite impressed with the breadth of Cusimano's talent for mixology. All of the drinks in this section were creative and the pictures made me more thirsty for John's drinks than hungry for Rachael's food. If this book has a saving grace, I think that it was the fact that Rachael teamed up with her husband.

My Year in Meals/My Year in Cocktails by Rachael Ray and John Cusimano
Published: November 13, 2012
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 384
Genre: Cookery
Audience: Adults
Disclosure: My own book purchase

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Two Days of Skyping with Authors

Many schools in the metro Detroit area were closed on Tuesday and Wednesday due to bitter cold temperatures. Our school, however, remained open, which I would normally be one of the teachers complaining about being in school while everyone else was still snuggled warm under their covers, but since I had scheduled author Skype visits for both Tuesday and Wednesday, I was actually happy to be getting up to go to school. 

On Tuesday we Skyped with the illustrious Jennifer Holm, winner of three, count 'em, THREE Newbery honors, and co-creator of the Babymouse and Squish graphic novel series with her brother Matthew Holm. We finished her Newbery honor book Turtle in Paradise as our read aloud right before Christmas break and so my kids had tons of questions for her about that book as well as everyone's favorite graphic novels, Babymouse and Squish.

Then on Wednesday we Skyped with Christopher Healy, author of the insanely funny The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, a book that absolutely needs to be made into an animated movie sooner rather than later.

Both authors were incredibly wonderful and gracious with my students and the kids were excited to ask their questions. And given the number of students who were reading both authors' books in the days leading up to our visits, it is proof positive of what Donalyn Miller says that "Kids read what we bless."

If anyone ever asks me why social networking should be part of a teacher's professional development, experiencing two days in a row of allowing my students to ask actual published (and let's not forget award-winning) authors questions will be one of the first examples I share with them. Developing relationships with authors and bringing them into classrooms on a regular basis is something you just couldn't do before social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Skype became so mainstream. When I started teaching almost seven years ago, I don't think I could have ever imagined how quickly the walls of the classroom would morph and change. Now the "social" aspect of social media has crossed over into the professional world and it's amazing to see what a positive impact these tools can have on our classrooms when we use them to extend those walls out into the world. For all you teachers who haven't signed on to Twitter yet, please do yourself a favor and start today! You will  be amazed at what it will do for the good of your classroom and your professional life.

Thanks again to Jennifer Holm and Christopher Healy for extending your talent and knowledge to my students!

Jennifer Holm answers student questions


Christopher Healy answers student questions

Christopher Healy answers student questions

Monday, January 21, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 1-21-13

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee  over at Teach Mentor Texts also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! To tell you the truth, I never understood why schools get this day off. Shouldn't we reserve this day to learn about the legacy of Dr. King? Instead, we've relegated it to a bank holiday. Just another day to sleep in. I'm not entirely sure that jives with Dr. King's dream, but whatever.

Speaking of Dr. King, my friend Kaitlin and I had the pleasure of going to the Kadir Nelson event at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor on Friday night and it was awe-inspiring. He is such a wonderful role model for young people to look up to, imploring the importance of following your dream instead of what will make you the most money.

Check out my recap of the Kadir Nelson event.

Truth be told, I didn't really do much reading this past week. I did start a new audiobook, The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett, but other than that, my reading is kind of at a standstill at the moment. I hate when life gets in the way of my reading.

Check out my current giveaways:
ARC of Hold Fast by Blue Balliett (ends 1/24)
ARC of Love Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge (ends today)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Kadir Nelson's life is just as inspiring as his books

"I want to live abundantly and the only way to do that is to be joyful in what you do." - Kadir Nelson

Last night I went to one of the most enjoyable book events I have ever attended. Author and illustrator Kadir Nelson came to Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor and gave a wonderful talk about his art and his writing.

I can't stop staring at this stunning book cover
If you are not familiar with Kadir's name, you are most likely familiar with his work as he is responsible for the cover art for the Michael Jackson posthumous album, MichaelHe has also designed several stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. More importantly though, if you're not familiar with Nelson's work, you need to get familiar with it. His illustrations are some of the most beautiful, emotionally-laden pieces of art I have ever had the pleasure of viewing, often moving me to tears. He captures the human spirit like no other illustrator I have seen before. That is most clearly evident with his newest picture books, Nelson Mandela and I Have a Dream. I have been saying for a while now that I liken Kadir Nelson to a visual-arts version of Langston Hughes. Hughes has always been one of my favorite poets because he makes me understand the African American experience like no other writer I have ever read. And he does it in so few words. Nelson's work is not unlike Hughes because he helps me see the African American experience through the eyes of the people he paints and I, in turn, despite being a thirty-something white woman, can feel that through his stunning brushstrokes.

But please don't assume that because Kadir writes and illustrates picture books that they are only for kids. Pick up a book like We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball or Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, and you will quickly realize that his work transcends age groups.

The first thing one notices about Kadir when he walks into a room is his calm and gentle demeanor. Someone jokingly asked him during the Q&A portion of the evening if he ever freaks out about anything because his presence is just so serene. His response was that it's more comfortable to be peaceful. How apropos that he illustrated Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech since he and King appear to be kindred spirits. He further adds to his serene persona by imploring the importance of choosing a career path because you love it, not because it will make you the most money. He shared his story of beginning college as an architecture major, and even though he loved to paint and draw, he chose architecture instead because he felt like that would lead him to a "real job." Since he wasn't a fan of starving, he didn't think being an artist was a practical career path. But architecture proved to be a path that was clearly not meant for him, so he decided to follow passion rather than practicality. That was clearly the right choice and one that continues to make a solid case for doing what you love instead of doing what will make you more money or doing something just to make your parents happy.
It's amazing how with some authors I can go up to and immediately strike up a conversation and with others I can't seem to find any way to get my mouth to open to articulate anything remotely intelligent. When I went up to get my books signed yesterday evening, my reaction to Kadir was unfortunately the latter. I didn't know what to say other than "When I look at your work, it moves me to tears." Even though I wanted to, I couldn't say anything else. I was just so dumbstruck. I was thankfully coherent enough to ask if he would be so kind as to take a picture with me and my friend Kaitlin who came with me. She thankfully could articulate her admiration much better than I could, declaring that her students love Heart and Soul and are equally as dumbstruck as I apparently am by the beautiful artwork inside.
My friend Kaitlin and me with Kadir Nelson: our admiration knows no bounds

My Beef with Hungry Girl

When Hungry Girl first started appearing on the Food Network I was curious. I had heard of her cookbooks but I never actually checked any of them out. I've since watched a few of her shows and am not impressed. I know there are many people that follow her food philosophy religiously and love what she does, but I am not one of them. I think she has some good ideas, but overall, I hate how she uses fake food as a way to eat more: frozen veggie burgers, spice packets loaded with sodium, whatever she can do to eat more, she will do.

I am on the opposite end of the spectrum: eat REAL, whole, full-flavored, full-fat foods in moderation.  I know this philosophy doesn't work for everyone, but the idea of pumping my body full of the processed, chemically-induced foods just so I can eat more doesn't seem healthy to me in the slightest.

To give you an example: just look at all the fake food ingredients in her no-nonsense egg nog:
  • vanilla soymilk
  • sugar-free fat-free vanilla instant pudding mix
  • no-calorie sweetener
  • imitation rum extract
  • nutmeg
 None of those ingredients appeal to me in the least, except maybe the REAL nutmeg.

I don't want to knock ALL of Hungry Girl's ideas. She does have a few good swaps that are better and healthier for you (replacing every other layer of noodles in lasagna with eggplant, using spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti, etc.) but I guess I just get irritated that her food philosophy is sometimes touted as healthier eating. It's not healthier eating when you're replacing real food with fake food. And it irritates me even further that even Dr. Oz has gotten on the Hungry Girl bandwagon and had her on his show a few times. What is up with that? 

But I didn't want to knock her food until I at least gave it a try, so I decided to make her "Lord of the Onion Rings" recipe where she uses her faux-frying technique of replacing breadcrumbs with Fiber One cereal and then baking in the oven.

Lord of the Onion Rings Adapted from the Hungry Girl cookbook by Lisa Lillien

Serves 1-2

1 large onion
1/2 cup Fiber One cereal (original)
1/4 fat-free liquid egg substitute (Not gonna lie. I used real eggs. Cuz that's how I roll)
Dash of salt
Optional: black pepper, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, etc.

Preheat oven to 375.

Cut ends off onion and remove outer layer.. Cut into 1/2-inch wide slices and separate into rings. 

Using a food processor, grind cereal into a breadcrumb-like consistency. Pour into a small dish and mix in salt and any additional spices you would like. 

Fill a small bowl with egg substitute (or real eggs if you're like me). Coat each ring first in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs. Give each ring a shake after  the egg bath. 

Place rings evenly on a baking sheet with nonstick spray. Cook for 20-25 minutes, flipping rings over about halfway through.

My attempt at Hungry Girl's version of onion rings
So how did they turn out? Eh. They were edible, but I wouldn't say they taste "just like" regular onion rings as Lillien often touts. I think this recipe is theoretically a good idea since Fiber One cereal is actually pretty good for you, but in execution, I wasn't impressed. The Fiber One breadcrumbs were dry and gave me a cotton mouth feel when I ate them. The flavor and crunch was decent, but I just couldn't get over that dry mouth feel when I ate them.

After reading through her first cookbook and watching her show, I have to say that Hungry Girl's ideas aren't all bad, but I feel like you have to be discerning with them. Pick and choose what you use. Don't follow her philosophy to the letter. If you read a recipe and it is loaded with processed, chemically-induced ingredients, walk away from it. But also keep in mind that some of her advice is helpful when she's discussing the use of REAL food in recipes (like the layers of eggplant in lasagna I discussed earlier).

So now that I've gone and probably ticked people off, tell me what you like or dislike about Hungry Girl.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dreaming of Books giveaway hop

For my portion of this giveaway hop, I am giving away an ARC of Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett
Expected Publication: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 278
Genre: Mystery
Audience: Middle Grade
Disclosure: ARC received at NCTE conference

Goodreads summary:
From NYT bestselling author Blue Balliett, the story of a girl who falls into Chicago's shelter system, and from there must solve the mystery of her father's strange disappearance.

Where is Early's father? He's not the kind of father who would disappear. But he's gone . . . and he's left a whole lot of trouble behind.

As danger closes in, Early, her mom, and her brother have to flee their apartment. With nowhere else to go, they are forced to move into a city shelter. Once there, Early starts asking questions and looking for answers. Because her father hasn't disappeared without a trace. There are patterns and rhythms to what's happened, and Early might be the only one who can use them to track him down and make her way out of a very tough place.

With her signature, singular love of language and sense of mystery, Blue Balliett weaves a story that takes readers from the cold, snowy Chicago streets to the darkest corner of the public library, on an unforgettable hunt for deep truths and a reunited family.

Terms and Conditions:
You must be 13 or older to enter and have a U.S. mailing address
One winner will be chosen
Use the Rafflecopter widget to enter. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

WriteOnCon Pitch Fest

 We here at WriteOnCon have decided that we sleep too much. To rectify that, we're organizing a mid-winter "Luck 'O the Irish" pitch-fest, where agents, book bloggers, and authors will team up to read and vote for the best pitches of 2013.

You read that right! A pitch-fest! At WriteOnCon!

But you won't need a pot 'o gold--or a lucky leprechaun--to participate, because our goal is to make sure you're well prepared. After all, we have bonafide literary agents coming to this thing! Yes, they will be reading the pitches, and yes, they are looking to sign clients. It could be you!

Not a writer? WE STILL NEED YOU! We're recruiting book bloggers and readers to spread the word and to vote for their favorites. Advocate for the books you want to see published--contact us at to become an official WOC 2013 Pitch-Fest Blogger. You'll even get a special button. Ooooo. Shiny buttons.

The details:
--Pitch-fest runs from March 18-22. Authors, book bloggers, readers, and our fabulous literary agents will be voting on the pitches. The favorites in each category will win prizes, including some great agent feedback or membership in the official WriteOnCon mentorship program!

--There will only be a limited number of pitches accepted. That number is unknown at this time, because it depends on how many agents attend. We're still recruiting agents and will let you know the final numbers as soon as we do! Pitches will be selected randomly, so it doesn’t matter what time zone you live in.

--The agents have selected their top three genres, and pitches will ONLY be accepted in those genres. Again, all genres are unknown at this time as we're still finalizing agents, but don't worry. We will make announcements about genres and numbers as things solidify (sign up for our newsletter so you don't miss a thing!). At this time, we are only focusing on the children's market, so you can know now that this pitch-fest will focus only on middle grade and young adult genres.

--We're announcing this now, before all details are finalized, because we're running a "perfect your pitch" workshop in February. This will take place in the WriteOnCon forums, and will work much the same as the query critique boards do during the annual WOC. You will post your pitch, and your peers will critique it. We will have posts from industry professionals on writing pitches and genre classification.

We're doing this for a good reason. We want your pitch to be as perfect as possible once the submission window hits in March. We will only be accepting your entry for the pitch-fest one time. We will not change your genre or edit your pitch after it has been submitted. This workshop during February is the time for you to fine-tune your pitch and get feedback about which genre your novel really belongs in.

--Only one pitch per person. Put forth your best work.

--Pitches should be for polished and query-ready novels only. That means if you haven't finished your novel yet, you shouldn't pitch. Still revising? Don't pitch. The agents attending are looking for material, and when they request, you want to be ready to send out your novel. We're announcing early to give you time to finish!

Dates to know:
February 18-March 10 - Forum peer pitch critiques (Carolin has the forum boards built! Check them out HERE)
March 11-13 - Submission of final pitches (this will be done through a Google form, NOT in the forum--details to come!)
March 14-17 - We build the boards in the forum (they will be hidden until March 18)
March 18-22 - Voting and commenting by literary agents, mentor authors, and book bloggers

We can't wait to see you at the Luck o' the Irish Pitch-Fest! Watch the WOC newsletter and site for more updates as we get closer to liftoff. Yeah, that was totally a mixed metaphor.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Happy Book Birthday Level 2!

I'm so excited that Lenore Appelhans' debut novel, Level 2, comes out today!

I had the privilege of reading an ARC of Level 2 last summer and was completely blown away. I hope you all go out and buy it today.

And if you need more convincing, check out my review of Level 2 and interview with Lenore:

Level 2 review
Interview with Lenore Appelhans

Monday, January 14, 2013

No Strings Attached giveaway hop

For my portion of this giveaway hop, I have a copy of the ARC Love Water Memory up for grabs:

Love Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge
Expected Publication: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Gallery Books
Pages: 328
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Adults
Disclosure: ARC received at NCTE conference

From Goodreads:
Waking up knee-deep in the San Francisco Bay with no understanding of how she got there, thirty-nine-year-old Lucie Walker discovers she has no memories of her past or her loving fiancé, Grady. After being diagnosed with a rare form of amnesia, Lucie returns to her previous life with Grady in Seattle only to find evidence of the “old” Lucie—an insecure and shallow personality she no longer recognizes, or wants to. Like a detective, the new Lucie attempts to find the path from past to present, only to remember shocking pieces of a dark childhood that tempt her to run away from everything all over again. To complicate matters more, she finds herself falling in love with her fiancé and his big close-knit clan of a family just as he seems to be falling out of love with her. But as Lucie begins to open up to the world around her, she realizes that she can build a future as the woman she wants to be, rather than the one her past dictated.

Terms and Conditions:
You must be 13 or older to enter and have a U.S. mailing address
One winner will be chosen
Use the Rafflecopter widget to enter. 

It's Monday! What are you reading? 1-14-13

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee  over at Teach Mentor Texts also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

I didn't finish any novels last week, but these are some picture books I read that I really enjoyed:
Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon
Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

I read a bunch of Kadir Nelson picture books last week in preparation for his visit to Nicola's Books on Friday. This one was my favorite:

Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Nelson's work is so moving it often brings me to tears. This book was no different, showing the human, fatherly side of Jackie Robinson, the first black player in major league baseball.

Currently (still) Reading:

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
Energize Research Reading and Writing by Christopher Lehman

Currently (still) Listening:
Need by Carrie Jones

I abandoned listening to The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. That book was just mind-numblingly boring.

Last week I reviewed:
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Last week I also posted:
Feeling my way through life and music
We should be listening to our students, not reading test scores

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Feeling my way through life and music

About the only thing that impacts me more emotionally than books is music. When you hear a song you love for the first time it can be a transformative experience.

I played piano for 13 years, and while I did not have a natural talent for playing (small hands and short fingers) I had a passion for it. The emotion those 88 keys could evoke in me when I sat down and played a Chopin Nocturne or a Beethoven Sonata was better than any therapy.

And while I don't play piano with any sort of regularity anymore, music still rewards me with transformative experiences. And you know when you're having them because the little hairs start raising on your arms from the goosebumps.

One such experience happened to me over Christmas break. My husband and I have a friend, Tiffany, whom we've both known since before we knew each other. Her older sister Wendy introduced us actually. We all (the sisters and I, that is) had the same music teacher growing up. After high school, Tiffany studied musical theater at the Boston Conservatory and now has her eyes set on Broadway.

While she was home over Christmas break, she performed some of her own songs at a local coffeehouse and while her entire set was flawless, one particular song she performed gave me those goosebumps I was talking about. So much so that midway through the song, I found myself a fountain of tears.

As I sat listening, I was initially taken by the beautiful yet mournful gypsy melody. But then I found the words rather curious. I wondered who she was referring to when she sang, "Those eyes are watching you, those eyes are watching me." And then for some reason, those lyrics put me in mind of The Great Gatsby and the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. I have no idea why. John Green's influence most likely. But then the song changed course and around 1:35 I realized this song had a deeper meaning and I didn't know what it was. I had an idea, but at the same time, I didn't need to know. I was leading with my emotions and I just wanted to feel my way through the song. So I sat there and just let it wash over me. Even then I knew that while it might be a small moment in my life, it is one I would not soon forget.

What small, seemingly insignificant moments have been transformative in your life?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

We should be listening to our students, not reading test scores

The return to school from Christmas break has been rough. In more ways than one. But today there was some light in an otherwise dismal week.

Over break I participated in a book discussion on Facebook and Twitter for Penny Kittle's newest book called Book Love. I had read the book in November and loved it, declaring it worthy of the same pedestal on which I hold The Book Whisperer. It was through the book discussion I realized that upon the first week back from break, I would make sure that students would be figuring out their reading rate.

In Penny's class she has students figure out how many pages they can read in two hours so they know how much weekly independent reading is expected of them. Reading rate is calculated by:

  • having students choose a book they consider at just the right level for them
  • Timing their reading for ten minutes
  • Calculating the number of pages read in those ten minutes
  • Multiplying that number by six to figure out their hourly rate
  • Then multiplying that number by two to figure out how many pages they should be reading weekly on their own.

Having students complete this exercise yesterday was eye opening. I had students reading anywhere from 4 pages to 28 pages in ten minutes! How can you hold both of those students to the same reading standard? You can't.

But the eye opening part really came today when I started conferring with them about their numbers.
A lot of students talked about how they interpreted their numbers and many of them said that their numbers depended on what kind of book they were reading. I heard a lot of discussions that began much like this: "Well, I was reading a really good book so of course my numbers were higher. If I was reading a boring book this number would be much lower." This was not from my prompting whatsoever. I just asked them what they thought of their numbers.

The other conversation I had with a student is one I've had many times: the absolute necessity for teachers to have extensive classroom libraries. When I was talking to a student today about her reading rate, she explained to me that she was really happy with her numbers and she knows that they would have been lower last year because last year she didn't like reading and now she does. When I asked her what made the difference she said, "This year I have way more books to choose from than I did in years past. Plus, doing so much reading made me realize what genres I like best."

Talking to these students and hearing from their own mouths what they think of their numbers made me realize even more what a travesty it is that our educational system relies so heavily on test scores. Here I have a group of students who calculated some data and were able to interpret what those numbers mean for THEMSELVES. They knew that those numbers are not static and can fluctuate from day to day and book to book. But politicians and educational reformers look at numbers and only see black and white, success or failure. If I learned one thing today it is that we need to be listening to what our students are telling us about their numbers, not asking the numbers to tell us about our students.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

ARC review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

I wasn't certain of anything anymore, except the New Orleans was a faithless friend and I wanted to leave her.

The year is 1950 and Josie Moraine wants more than anything to leave her current life behind. Her mother, a brothel prostitute on Conti Street, pays little attention to Josie, and when she does, it's usually because she wants something from her. The gruff brothel madam, Willie Woodley, looks out for Josie, keeping (or getting) her out of trouble, and is more of a mother to her than her own.

When Josie befriends Charlotte Gates, a wealthy girl who lives Uptown, she becomes even more convinced that she needs to leave New Orleans. It isn't long into their first meeting that Charlotte convinces Josie that her way out of New Orleans is to apply to Smith College in Massachusetts.  Figuring out how to afford and get accepted to Smith becomes an obsession for Josie, one that she is willing to go to almost any length to accomplish.

But the mysterious death of a wealthy man in the French Quarter soon causes Josie to become embroiled in a police investigation, brought upon by her own mother, which causes her to question her loyalty to all the people involved in her life.

Out of the Easy is a brilliant sophomore effort by the author who brought us one of the most moving, important books written in the last ten years, Between Shades of Gray. And while nowhere near as moving as her first novel, Out of the Easy is just as compelling. Sepetys once again shows her prowess at throwing her readers into a story with a hook that reels them in and then keeps them turning the pages with meaningful, empathic characters and a riveting plot. And the fact that Sepetys can write a brothel madam whom readers can empathize with shows what a master she is at the craft of writing. I mean, hearing or reading the words "brothel madam" doesn't exactly conjure up the warm and fuzzies, ya know? But Sepetys still finds a way to get you on her side.

Despite the fact that Out of the Easy is a drastically different book than Between Shades of Gray, don't let that steer you away from reading it. In fact, that should actually make it more appealing: it proves that Ruta Sepetys isn't just a one-trick pony and that she is a well-rounded author. And while Ruta may say that historical fiction is "the ugly girl at the dance" as she recently did in her speech at the ALAN conference (alluding to what a hard sell it is to young readers), I'm going to have to mix my metaphors here and say that Sepetys is that ugly girl's fairy godmother, getting her to dance with the handsome prince at the ball.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Expected Publication: February 12, 2013
Publisher: Philomel
Pages: 348
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Audience: Young Adult
Disclosure: ARC acquired at the NCTE conference

Monday, January 7, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 1-7-13

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen and Kellee  over at Teach Mentor Texts also host a kidlit version of It's Monday! What are You Reading?

Back to the grind! Christmas break is officially over today and while I'm excited to go back and see my students again, I'm also in a bit of mourning. I was able to get so much reading done over break. I'm going to miss lazing around the house and staying in my pajamas all day.

Check out this awesome loot I got at my library's used book store last week. Love my library. 
 I am especially excited that I snagged a copy of Behemoth because just a few days before we got out for Christmas break one of my students was practically begging me to get the second book in the Leviathan series. When I saw it on the shelf at the store on Wednesday, I practically elbowed the guy standing next to me to get to it (not really, but I may have aggressively headed for it). It was kismet that it was sitting there on the shelf waiting for me. I can't wait to show my Leviathan-lover what I snagged over break.

Last week I finished and reviewed:
Just One Day by Gayle Forman (its book birthday is tomorrow. Yay!)
The Diviners by Libba Bray

Last week I also reviewed:

Teen Boat! by Dave Roman and John Green
You Tell Your Dog First by Alison Pace

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson
(BTW... to my southeastern Michigan and northern Ohio readers, Kadir Nelson is coming to Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor on January 18th)

 My favorite picture book from last week was:

Jangles: A Big Fish Story by David Shannon
Growing up in a family of really bad leisure fishermen, you can't help but get a good chuckle out of a big fish story. I fell so in love with this book that I even bought and sent a copy to my dad. He can read it to my nephew, his grandson - the newest generation he's teaching to be a bad fisherman. :-P

Currently Reading:

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
Energize Research Reading and Writing by Christopher Lehman

Currently Listening:
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
Need by Carrie Jones

Last week I also posted:
My Top 12 Food Memories of 2012
My Top 12 Travel Memories of 2012 ( #1 on my list is partying with the #NerdyBookClub in Vegas)
Bring YA Authors to Your Hometown +giveaway
Giveaway of Eat the City by Robin Shulman

Oh, and check out my new Pinterest board if you're an audiophile like me:
Audiobooks worth a listen
Speaking of Pinterest, I also spent two days last week re-organizing all my recipe boards. Now I have many food boards and can better find recipes more easily instead of a hodge-podge on one big board. Not to mention the fact that I took all the recipes I tore out from magazines, found them online, and pinned them to Pinterest. Now I have them all stored electronically. Yay! Check it out:
My Pinterest Boards