Category Archives: Reading

Celebrating Hispanic Authors: Spotlight on Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! I hope you’re spending some of your time from Sept. 15-Oct.15 curled up with a good YA book by a Latino/a author. If you need book suggestions, you may also want to check out Latina Book ClubVamos a Leer, and The Hispanic Reader.

Today’s YA author in the spotlight is: Benjamin Alire SáenzEnjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes directly from Cinco Puntos Press and University of Texas at El Paso)

Benjamin Alire Sáenz was born in 1954 in Old Picacho, a small farming village outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico, less than 50 miles north of the U.S./Mexico border. He was the fourth of seven children and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla Park in a traditional Mexican-American Catholic family. During his youth, he worked at various jobs–painting apartments, picking onions, and cleaning for a janitorial service. After graduating from high school in 1972, he entered the seminary. He was later ordained a Catholic priest, but left the priesthood three and a half years later. At the age of 30, he entered the University of Texas at El Paso. He later received a fellowship at the University of Iowa. In 1988, he received a Wallace E. Stegner Fellowship in poetry from Stanford University. In 1993, he returned to the border to teach in the bilingual MFA program at UTEP.

Sáenz is an award-winning poet and author of books for children and young adults. His first YA novel, SAMMY & JULIANA IN HOLLYWOOD was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Americas Book Award, The Paterson Prize, and the JHunt Award. It was named one of the top ten Young Adult novels by the American Library Association and one of the top books of the year by the Center for Children’s Books, The New York Public Library, and the Miami Herald.

His other YA novels are: HE NEVER SAID GOODBYE, LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTER, and ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE.

YA NOVEL: SAMMY & JULIANA IN HOLLYWOOD

Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: A young adult novel Latino-style–the year is 1969. America is at war, Hollywood is a dirt-poor Chicano barrio in small town America, and Sammy and Juliana, about to head into their senior year, are in love.

MY TWO CENTS: I listened to the audio version of this novel. I had mixed feelings while reading it, but the characters and story have stuck with me. Sáenz creates strong characters–main and supporting–that I cared about and could visualize. Sammy’s voice was spot-on as a teen boy who grapples with the personal issues all teens do–friends, love, fears and hopes for the future–while also dealing with poverty, racism, and the Vietnam War era. A pet peeve of mine is when authors describe in too much detail. Sáenz does this, but it didn’t stop me from reading. Also, while Sammy and Juliana are in love, as the book blurb states, this is not a traditional love story. Something tragic happens shortly into the novel that ends the love affair. I won’t spoil it, but the relationship was short-lived, and Sammy spends the rest of the novel dealing with this loss and many others. If you’re looking for something light-hearted with a happy ending, this one’s not for you. There was no uplifting, triumphant moment for the main character. I wanted something good to happen to Sammy.  Sáenz left me feeling what it’s like to get pounded by life, as Sammy was, which is also a point worth making. Some people take a beating every day and have to find the strength to keep marching forward. Sad but true.

TEACHING TIPS: This book has many issues worth pursuing in the classroom: immigration, poverty, grief, drug-use, discrimination based on race and sexual preference. One thing I thought about while reading was how parts of this novel could easily be used by teachers in different ways. I say parts because I don’t believe every novel used in class needs to be read cover-to-cover. Also, a history teacher, let’s say, may want to zero in on certain aspects of a novel, but may not want to handle elements typically taught by an English teacher, like character development or symbolism.

The thread about the Vietnam War could be pulled from the novel and used to complement non-fiction pieces in history classes. The character Pifas is drafted and students protest the war by wearing black arm bands and staging a sit-in in the school cafeteria. These were among the most memorable moments in the novel. The conversation between Sammy and Pifas about being drafted is emotionally gut-wrenching, and my heart sank when Gigi gets out of the car and falls to her knees in reaction to the news about Pifas’s death.

LEXILE: 390

LINKS for more information:

Find SAMMY & JULIANA IN HOLLYWOOD on Amazon.comBarnes and Noble.comIndieBound.org,  and Goodreads.

Book Trailers & Reluctant Readers

At the start of each school year, I’m like a squirrel darting this way and that, chasing great ideas that will appeal to my students. Of course, teachers can’t do everything (although some think otherwise). After I settle in to my classroom routine, only some of the cool ideas stick. This year, I’m determined to show book trailers and do book talks on a regular basis.  I have done these in the past, of course, but they tend to fall off when other things become more pressing, like prepping for mandated tests instead of encouraging a love for reading…but I digress.

Book trailers and book talks tend to work with reluctant readers. Why? Because one of the reasons they hate to read is they don’t know what to look for when they go into the library. They don’t have a favorite author or genre. They don’t know what new and exciting books have been published. They wander around dazed like they’re on another planet and then they eventually leave empty-handed.

Enter the book trailer/talk. Each of my students has an index card. I show them three book trailers a week. I also read the inside flap and/or back and tell them anything I know about the novel. If a book sounds interesting, they write down the title. This way, when I drag them into that big room filled with books that’s conveniently attached to my classroom, they have something to look for–a book they have decided they want to read.

Of course, not all book trailers work, at least with my students. Some are too short, leaving them with WTF?  type questions instead of wanting more. My students tend to like the longer ones that are more like a movie preview. I’ll post the trailers that “worked” for my students. After viewing these, several students wrote down the title and some checked the book out immediately.

The first one is for FRACTURE by Megan Miranda. A student checked it out and read it all that night.

Next, many want to read HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown after seeing this:


Also, MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs was perfectly creepy.

Stay tuned for more book trailers. Up next IF I STAY, PRETTY AMY, and SKELETON CREEK.

National Hispanic Heritage Month 2012

Happy National Hispanic Heritage Month 2012! (Sept. 15-Oct. 15)

For those of you who don’t know, here’s some information about the month directly from www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov:

“The purpose of National Hispanic Heritage Month is to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

“The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, on the approval of Public Law 100-402.

“The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September18, respectively. Also, Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is October 12, falls within this 30 day period.”

Last year, I vowed to read more young adult novels written by Latino/a authors. My goal was one a month. I fell behind my self-imposed schedule, but I completed ten novels. I wrote about eight already and have two posts in the pipeline. I have decided to make this an ongoing feature, with the hope that it will serve as a resource. With this in mind, I created a “Celebrating Hispanic Authors” page with sub-pages and copied the original posts there. Check those out when you can!

Caridad Ferrer

Cristina García

Francisco X. Stork

Gary Soto

Matt de la Peña

Nancy Osa

Pam Muñoz Ryan

Victor Martinez

I also posted a long list of books by Hispanic Authors, which I plan to update soon. Finally, since I’m a teacher and all, I am going to add two new things to future posts that highlight Hispanic authors. I will add the Lexile number attached to the book, if available, and Teaching Tips. These would not be full-blown lesson plans, but things that stood out to me while reading–things I’d develop further if I were to teach the novel in my class.

While I’m preparing my next post on Benjamin Alire Sáenz and his novel SAMMY & JULIANA IN HOLLYWOOD, you may want to check out three great sites that promote Hispanic literacy are Latina Book ClubVamos a Leer, and The Hispanic Reader.

Debut Author: Kimberly Sabatini

Kimberly Sabatini is counting down the days to the release of her debut novel, TOUCHING THE SURFACE, published by Simon Pulse, a division of Simon & Schuster. Since this week is also linked to Darcy Patterson’s Random Acts of Publicity, I’m choosing Kim’s book to highlight.

I haven’t read it yet, since it comes out October 30, but I’m willing to give it a shout-out and an old-school fist pump. Why? Because Kimberly Sabatini is one of the nicest people around. Really.

After I attended my first SCBWI conference in New York, I wrote about how Kim extended herself, making me feel welcome in a place where I didn’t know anyone. You can read about that by clicking here.

Let’s be honest, the online world can be venomous. In fact, I refuse to read the comments section of any online news outlet. What starts as conversation turns into vile, childish name-calling. I mention this because I met Kim online and she has always been positive and supportive. Her genuine optimism is refreshing and appreciated. It makes me want to root for her. Go, Kim!

Found through Creative Commons

You can click here to read Kim’s recent blog post about her upcoming book birthday for TOUCHING THE SURFACE.

Here is the description of her novel on Amazon:

“When Elliot finds herself dead for the third time, she knows she must have messed up, big-time. She doesn’t remember how she landed in the afterlife again, but she knows this is her last chance to get things right.

“Elliot just wants to move on, but first she will be forced to face her past and delve into the painful memories she’d rather keep buried. Memories of people she’s hurt, people she’s betrayed…and people she’s killed.

“As she pieces together the secrets and mistakes of her past, Elliot must find a way to earn the forgiveness of the person she’s hurt most, and reveal the truth about herself to the two boys she loves…even if it means losing them both forever.”

Sounds good, right? Go ahead and pre-order it! You can find it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble or by clicking one of the links above. Best wishes for much success to Kimberly Sabatini!

Books My Reluctant Readers Love Part 2

In March, I posted the titles of books read independently by my students, most of whom are self-proclaimed non-readers and lag behind their peers in grades and standardized testing. I wanted to do a follow-up to give credit to my students, some in particular who became….readers!!, and to the authors who wrote books that engaged these teens.

During the school year, we read three novels together: 13 REASONS WHY by Jay Asher, THE WAVE by Todd Strasser, and THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. After reading THE HUNGER GAMES, we went to see the movie as a class. Some of my students had not yet been on a field trip in high school. In the lower grades, all students go on the outings. In high school, special trips are linked to certain classes, clubs, or sports. Some of my students are members of sports teams and clubs, but many of them are not. So, it was nice that they were able to have a field trip all for themselves. It was especially nice that it revolved around the most talked about young adult novel of the year. They were now able to take part in the literary conversation. (Pause as I shed a teacher tear of joy.)

On the independent reading front, some students took off. Using their “Lexile” scores, we were able to find books that matched their reading level. Not every student turned the reading corner. A couple of students still struggled to complete a novel, even with more appropriate choices and time to read. Others, though, were on fire in the best possible way! In general, students read more. Each time a student finished a book, I made a copy of the cover and pinned it to the wall.

Here is a picture of my wall when we first started:

Here is a picture of the wall in March:

And…drum roll please…here is the wall at the end of June.

Keep in mind that some of these books were read by several students. For example, many of my girls blazed through the PERFECT CHEMISTRY series by Simone Elkeles. Each book cover is on the wall one time, and I added the students’ names to the colored border. So, really, you can probably double the number that’s on the wall. (Pause as I shed another teacher tear of joy).

And now…

photo_364568552_53e9b922b0_t.jpg

Found through Creative Commons

…big applause for a certain student and certain authors.

I have one student who makes me want to shed buckets of teacher tears. She had NEVER read independently as a habit. By the end of this year, she often asked to come to my classroom during her study hall because she wanted to read and it was too loud in study hall. When she took a trip to New York City, she was upset that she had forgotten to bring her book to read on the bus. She normally carries a book in her bag all the time now. Once, she came to talk to me during a time she thought was free for me. I had a class. They were reading their independent books. She popped her head in and said, “Oh, sorry. I’ll come back later. I don’t want to interrupt your reading time.”

The two authors who turned her on to reading were Simone Elkelesand Ni-Ni Simone. To them, I say:

You Rock Baby

Found through Creative Commons

This student read the PERFECT CHEMISTRY series and the PARADISE books and then recommended them to her friends. She then searched for something similar and discovered Ni-Ni Simone. She read all of the titles we have in our school library before the end of the school year. In total, she read 14 books, not counting what she had to read for her classes. And, guess what, when I assessed her reading levels at the end of the year, her scores had improved on every test.

Thank you to all of the authors who wrote books that engaged my students. Parents or teachers who have children or students who are avid readers might take this for granted. When I see a student who doesn’t normally read actually finish a book or two or 14!, it’s nothing short of awesome. So, thank you! Here is the list of books read by my students this year:

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

The Wave by Todd Strasser

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman

Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones by Patrick Carman

Skeleton Creek: The Raven by Patrick Carman

Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Haters by Alisa Valdes

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer

The Lost Boy by Dave Pelzer

Fat Vampire by Adam Rex

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

Point Break by Anthony Horowitz

Eagle Strike by Anthony Horowitz

Empty by Suzanne Weyn

Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn

Chasing Romeo by A.J. Byrd

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Simone Elkeles

Perfect Chemistry

Rules of Attraction

Chain Reaction

Leaving Paradise

Return to Paradise

Ni-Ni Simone:

If I Was Your Girl

Upgrade U

Teenage Love Affair

Shortie Like Mine

A Girl Like Me

Celebrating Hispanic Authors: Spotlight on Cristina García

In an effort to celebrate Hispanic authors beyond National Hispanic Heritage month, I plan to read and post about YA novels written by Latino/as. You may also want to check out Latina Book Club, Vamos a Leer, and The Hispanic Reader.

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is: Cristina García . Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes mostly from the author’s website (http://www.cristinagarcianovelist.com/):  Born in Cuba, García’s family moved to New York when she was two years old. García worked as a journalist for Time Magazine before she became a full-time writer. Her first novel, DREAMING IN CUBAN, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Among other things (she has a long list of accomplishments), García has written five novels for adults and three books for younger readers: DREAMS OF SIGNIFICANT GIRLS, I WANNA BE YOUR SHOEBOX, and THE DOG WHO LOVED THE MOON. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Barnard College and a master’s degree in European and Latin American Studies from The Johns Hopkins University.

YA NOVEL: DREAMS OF SIGNIFICANT GIRLS

DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Three very different girls. Three very different summers. A powerful bond that stands the test of time. Vivien struggles with her identity. She doesn’t exactly fit in with the kids in her neighborhood. To top it off she worries about her expanding waistline and endlessly infuriating family.

Shirin is an Iranian princess and honestly believes she is better than everyone else. She has no time to suffer fools.

Ingrid has never followed the rules. It is easier for her to rely on herself and grow up way too fast. She is not in the business of showing how she feels, but that isn’t always easy when you never get what you want.

National Book Award Finalist Cristina García weaves a story of first loves and hates, the heartbreak of being disappointed by your parents, finding what you are good at, and the realization that family is more than sharing a last name.

Here is a review of the novel in the New York Times by Veronica Chambers.

MY TWO CENTS: This is a quiet novel. No explosions every few chapters, no governments being overturned or alien invasions averted. Yet, what happens to these girls is significant because the moments they experience are crucial to their personal development. The gentle pace of this novel won’t appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed getting to know these characters and taking a break from action-driven YA. I had some questions about character motivation along the way, but overall, I was attached to these girls as they experienced the pain and joy involved in friendships and first loves. I wanted to find out what would happen to them.

LINKS for more information:

Find DREAMS OF SIGNIFICANT GIRLS on Amazon.comBarnes and Noble.comIndieBound.org,  and Goodreads.

This is GREAT for fans of THE HUNGER GAMES who are wondering what to read next. Very cool graphic!

wrapped up in books

If I had a nickel for every time I have been asked to recommend a book that is “like The Hunger Games,” I could double my paycheck. It’s great that kids are excited about reading, but I hate that even though we have multiple copies of the most popular read-alikes, they are often checked out. Our dystopian/post-apocalyptic reading list hadn’t been updated in over a year, so at first I started to add to that, but I realized that it wasn’t capturing everything that attracted readers to The Hunger Games.

It was also difficult to organize. I’ve seen a few infographics on dystopian fiction, like this one from Goodreads that has lots of fun facts about the history of dystopian fiction and this one from E M Bowman that outlines the elements of dystopian fiction, they were highlighting ones that were already popular. There was a list compiled…

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