Category Archives: Teaching

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

“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.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

My full-time, paying day-job is about to start again. This means writing time will be in low supply but high demand. That’s why I spent much of this summer writing.

I have always worked year-round. When I became a teacher twelve years ago, this didn’t change because I landed an awesome summer job teaching future teachers. My full-time, at-home job as single mom to an adorable little girl has been going on for five years. A few years back, I added young adult fiction writing to my life.

Finding time to write has been difficult (major understatement). Now, couple that fact with this one: this was my first summer without a paying job. When my summer job was cut, I searched frantically for this:

Thumbnail for version as of 11:08, 23 February 2011

Found through WikiMedia Commons

Would I have enough money to make it through the summer? Should I apply for other jobs? Will I have to sell my house and move into a studio apartment? Will my parents get suspicious if I always show up at dinner time?

But, as the spring semester inched closer to June, I welcomed summer unemployment and trusted everything would be fine. After much deep breathing, I realized this was the perfect opportunity to write.

After I slept.

Trust me, I needed to recover recharge after the school year if I was going to be creative. Most of July was spent with “butt in chair,” which is the #1 piece of advice published authors give to pre-published writers. You want to be a published author? Then, put your butt in the chair and write.

That’s exactly what I did.

During July, I finished my second young adult novel, called AESOP’S CURSE and sent it to my agent to read. I also completed a major revision of Chapters 1-9 of RESURRECTING EMILY and sent that to my agent who will read it and then send it to someone who cannot be named yet. I have to finish the revisions to RESURRECTING EMILY, which will take me into September, and I have an idea for Book #3 already brewing.

For a week in August, I went to Nags Head, NC, with good friends. Here’s proof that I actually went outdoors this summer. I’m not in the picture, but I took it. I was there, I swear:

But, truthfully, mostly I stayed in to write. I may have missed some parties or beach time,  but knowing the way my life is, and how little “extra” time I ever have, I needed to keep my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard this summer.

School starts a week from today, which means my schedule will return to its state of organized chaos. My school-year schedule includes my daughter’s activities and much-needed exercise for me since I sat on my rear all summer! I have also vowed to go out and have more….fun!!

Thumbnail for version as of 18:29, 18 April 2008

Found through WikiMedia Commons

All of this means I will have to work harder to carve out writing time. As difficult as that is, I’ll do it because it’s important to me. I love to write and I want to get published.

What did you do on your summer vacation? Did you get something accomplished? Did you have fun?

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…


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

Swearing in YA Light Compared to Real Life

Last week, the YA world exploded with reaction to a study out of Brigham and Young University about the amount of swearing in teen novels and whether a rating system is needed. Check out the following links for more information and reactions from the American Library Association and authors Gayle Forman and Kiersten White:

I wasn’t going to respond only because others were quicker on the draw and perfectly captured the insanity of a study based on 40 books. For every book published with a swear-word in it, I’m sure there’s one that has none, but that kind of study wouldn’t get attention. Also, there’s the issue that a book can have no foul language but deal with mature content.

I decided to add something to this conversation because I work with teens daily. I’m going to focus specifically on the swearing issue. Here’s what I know from first-hand experience:

  • The idea that books with four-letter words are polluting their minds is ludicrous. My students are all reluctant readers (meaning they hate to read and often do not read) and they swear as often as ducks quack. My guess is they are being influenced by Twitter, music, Facebook, television, video games, their parents, and more than anything…their friends.
  • Students who do read (I’ve taught them, too) also swear. Shocking, I know, but true. So, they may be influenced by books, but chances are they are also influenced by Twitter, music, Facebook, television, video games, their parents, and more than anything…their friends.
  • The swearing in YA novels is child’s play compared to the swearing that goes on in a high school. I read a lot of teen literature, and I can say not a single novel I have read comes close to the profanity I hear every day. Let me be clear, students do not swear at me. They wouldn’t dare, and if they did, they’d receive a verbal reprimand and an office write-up, which is usually followed by a detention, at the least. I don’t tolerate that kind of disrespect. The swearing I’m talking about is casual, when they talk to each other in the hallways, cafeteria, and classrooms. If authors were trying to capture realistic teen-speak, about half of all dialogue would be four-letter words, the n-word, or sexual references. The reality is that YA literature is squeaky-clean compared to the way teens really talk with their friends.

Don’t believe me? I dare you to check a teen’s Twitter account, Facebook page, or text messaging. Go ahead, I dare you. If your teen doesn’t have any of these and/or is not the swearing kind, awesome! I mean that. Thank you. Being the verbal police all day in school and then doing it at home with my 5-year-old who likes the words “poopie” and “butt” lately is entirely exhausting.

I hope my efforts at home will prolong the inevitable–that “poopie” and “butt” will turn into “shit” and “ass.” Like the teens I teach, my daughter will probably think swearing is part of growing up. At 17, she’ll be able to drive herself to school and an after-school part-time job. Why, then, couldn’t she drop the F-bomb once in a while?

Of course, swearing does not equal adulthood, and I’m sure there are plenty of adults who don’t curse. Personally, I think overusing profanity is obnoxious, whether it comes from teens or adults. I don’t have a problem, however, with a well-placed F-bomb, or other four-letter word, in life or books.

What’s funny is that books are being called out when the language used in the YA novels I’ve read is mild compared to what I hear daily. If Brigham and Young researchers want to have some real fun, they should spend 40 days (to match the 40 books) walking around the hallways of an average American high school during passing times and start counting four-letter words.

My guess is, at the end of their little experiment, they’d call YA authors lightweights.

The Books My Reluctant Readers Love

At various times during the year, a “best books” list is published by someone somewhere. Those people have a lot more clout than I do, but I contend that some of the best books are being read in my classroom. Why? Because they are being read. Period.

Most of my students are self-proclaimed non-readers. They can read, but they don’t like to read. When offered the choice between a book and something else, the something else wins. Reluctant readers are often turned off by books because they are told what to read instead of being allowed to pick a book for themselves. When allowed to choose, students often select something that sounds good, but may be above or below their reading levels, which leaves them frustrated or bored.

This school year, we started by reading two novels I was sure they’d love: 13 REASONS WHY by Jay Asher and THE WAVE by Todd Strasser. We read these together, which was great, but I wanted my students to develop an independent reading habit. They took a reading assessment that produced their “Lexile” numbers, and these were used to help students select books. I hadn’t done this before, but it seemed like the best way to match students with books they could actually read instead of something too hard or too easy. Like Goldilocks, we were searching for books that were “just right.”

Once students and books were matched, I gave them time to read every day. And an amazing thing happened….books…got…read…in…their…entirety! That’s right: cover to cover. Pretty cool, huh? Now, my matchmaking skills didn’t work on everyone. I had some students who stopped after a few chapters and needed to try something new. I have one boy who took weeks to finish a novel and another who has yet to finish one. But, by and large, students were reading, asking for more time to read, and finishing books, at which time 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 more recent picture:







This is what we call progress. (I stop to wipe a teacher tear of joy.)

So, here is a list of best YA books based on the criteria that they were read and loved by students who would normally prefer not to read. I look forward to adding to the list later this year.

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

The Wave by Todd Strasser

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

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Rules of Attraction by Simone Elkeles

Chain Reaction by Simone Elkeles

Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

When Teens Speak Up To Help Others

Last week was National Suicide Prevention Week. I’m not sure how many schools were able to plan activities for students. The hectic nature of the start of a school year probably didn’t allow much beyond instructing teachers and students of the new, tougher bullying law in Connecticut. Bullying has led to suicide for some students, so the connection may have been made there.

Also last week, my students decided to read THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher, a bestselling young adult novel about a high school junior who commits suicide and then leaves audiotapes explaining why.

According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between 10 and 24, resulting in about 4,400 youth deaths per year. Also: 15% of  U.S. high school students “reported seriously considering suicide, 11% reported creating a plan, and 7% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey. Each year, about 149,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at Emergency Departments across the U.S.”

But I don’t want to spend the rest of this post writing about bullies in and out of a child’s home and what happens when things go wrong. I want to write about when things go well and a student does not become a statistic.

I want to tell you about the freshman who came to my classroom last year, first thing in the morning, to tell me he was concerned about a friend. She wrote him some disturbing texts the night before. She wasn’t in school that morning. We walked to guidance immediately and, there, they worked to determine if she was safe.

I want to tell you about the junior who was sitting in ISS. A girl borrowed a pencil from her, then broke it, ripped off the metal part, and used it to cut herself. The junior called me and asked if I could retrieve her from ISS so that she could work with me on her English paper. When I took her out of ISS, she broke down, telling me the English paper was a lie, but she had to get out of ISS to tell someone. Counselors and social workers moved into action to help both girls.

I am one of 100 teachers in my building. I’m sure we all have similar stories.

Bullies are out of control, and the number of students who hurt themselves as a result of bullying is astounding. But, this post is about the students who do the right thing. They step up and help others in need. They tell people to back off. They tell an adult when they think something serious is about to happen. They are responsible and brave when it’s not easy to be either.

I look forward to reading THIRTEEN REASONS WHY with my students. A major theme is a line stated by Hannah Baker, the girl who commits suicide. She says, “No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push it just the same.”

I hope this sinks in as my students read the novel. The good news is some of them already know the impact they have on the lives of others. Some of them have already proven they will not stand by and do nothing. Instead of “pushing it,” they will “push back.” Anti-bullies. They’re out there. Perhaps we need more of them, but let’s not overlook the ones that already exist. To them, I say thank you. I’m sure you have had a positive impact on the lives of other people.

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