Tag Archives: YA literature

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

Abby Sciuto, Elizabeth Davis, and Me

Me as Abby Sciuto on Halloween

What do TV’s coolest forensic specialist, a fictional YA character, and a high school reading teacher have in common?

Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but here’s the story.

Almost two weeks ago, I was scrambling around, trying to decide what to be for Halloween. Yes, the teachers where I work dress up, and I don’t need to be asked twice to participate in the holiday. This year, I wasn’t sure what to do, but then I decided to be Abby Sciuto from NCIS. I must be a big fan, right? Not really. I watch limited TV. Still, I’d have to be living in a cave not to know who she is. Then, I must be a big fan of Pauley Perrette’s, right? Not really. I know very little about the actress. So, why Abby? Because a teen version of her is what I pictured in my head as I developed the character Elizabeth Davis for my yet-to-be-published novel, RESURRECTING EMILY.

In my mind, Elizabeth was beautiful, tough, creative, and smart with jet-black hair and light green eyes. While writing the novel, I decided to make a mock book cover that I would pin to my wall.  I had just read THE SECRET and listened to a CD about manifesting dreams. Creating a visual of what’s desired was one of the suggestions. Some of friends will laugh about this (go ahead, ha ha), but I grew up with a superstitious Brazilian mother. If she told me to light a candle every Tuesday to ward off the evil eye, I did. No questions asked. So, I created a book cover that would make my graphic designer sister

The mock book cover I made to visualize my dream

cringe, but the point is that I chose a picture of Pauley Perrette as Abby Sciuto to represent Elizabeth. I couldn’t find a picture of a Goth teenager that captured the exact image I had of my character, but Abby as a 15-year-old–at least physically–would come close. Here is how my character is described in the novel:

Emily Elizabeth Davis: major attitude from the tone of her voice to the swagger in her walk…A Goth girl in a small, New England town. In a big city, she would blend in. But here? She stood out to say the least. She carried her attitude easily on her sturdy frame. She was taller than many girls her age and had an athletic upper-body.

Her pin-straight hair was dyed jet-black and pulled tight into a ponytail. Uneven bangs and black eye makeup framed light green eyes. Her angular face, with its strong cheekbones and jawline, was decorated with an eyebrow piercing, big black hoop earrings, and a pouty mouth painted deep purple. Loose, army-green shorts sat low on her hips. She wore black wedge flip-flops; her toenails and short finger nails were painted blood red.

Dressing up as Abby Sciuto was fun. I mean, when else could I get away with wearing a red dog collar and neck tattoo to work? But it also made me feel like I gave a little life to Elizabeth Davis, a fictional girl who’s been a part of me for many years now. Hopefully, soon, you’ll have the chance to get to know her.

National Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on Pam Muñoz Ryan

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, I am highlighting an Hispanic author of young adult literature each week. At the end of the month, I will post a list of titles for those of you interested in reading YA novels written by Hispanic authors. I will continue to
chip away at the long list and post about them during the year because–hey, Hispanics should be celebrated year round! :.)

Here’s a link with more information about National Hispanic Heritage Month:

http://hispanicheritagemonth.gov/

And here’s a link for Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.

http://www.latinabookclub.com/

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is PAM MUÑOZ RYAN. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes from the author’s website www.pammunozryan.com): Pam Muñoz Ryan  has written over thirty books for young people, from picture books for the very young to young adult novels, including the award winning ESPERANZA RISING, BECOMING NAOMI LEÓN, RIDING FREEDOM, PAINT THE WIND, and THE DREAMER. She is the National Education Association´s Author recipient of the Civil and Human Rights Award, the Virginia Hamilton Award for Multicultural Literature, and is twice the recipient of the Willa Cather Literary Award for writing. She was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, (formerly Pam Bell), received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at San Diego State University, and now lives in North San Diego County with her family.

YA NOVEL: ESPERANZA RISING.

Esperanza Rising

FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Esperanza believed her life would be wonderful forever. She would always live on her family’s ranch in Mexico. She would always have fancy dresses and a beautiful home filled with servants. Papa and Abuelita would always be with her. But a sudden tragedy shatters her world and forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California, where they settle in a camp for Mexican migrant workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles brought on by the Great Depression, and lack of acceptance she now faces. When Mama gets sick, and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot their new life, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances–because Mama’s life and her own depend on it.

MY TWO CENTS: This novel was on my to-read list for a long time. The teachers at my former school read it with their 6th graders, and I had heard a lot about it, but I never got around to reading it myself. I’m glad I finally did. I listened to the audio version of the novel, which can sometimes make or break my experience. The reader was great, and the story was both beautifully written and touching. Muñoz Ryan’s writing has a lyrical quality and her characters are likeable and memorable. The story of Esperanza’s family losing everything and needing to start over was skillfully blended with the historical setting, the Great Depression. Esperanza’s relationship with her mother, her love of the land–a seed planted by her father–and the lovely portrayal of Mexican culture were all high points for me.

LINKS for more information:

Find ESPERANZA RISING on Amazon.com and Goodreads.

 

NEXT UP: The long list of YA novels written by Hispanic authors.

National Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on Gary Soto

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, I am highlighting an Hispanic author of young adult literature each week. At the end of the month, I will post a list of titles for those of you interested in reading YA novels written by Hispanic authors. I will continue to
chip away at the long list and post about them during the year because–hey, Hispanics should be celebrated year round! :.)

Here’s a link with more information about National Hispanic Heritage Month:

http://hispanicheritagemonth.gov/

And here’s a link for Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.

http://www.latinabookclub.com/

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is GARY SOTO. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (information comes from the author’s website www.garysoto.com): Gary Soto, born April 12, 1952, was raised in Fresno, California. His poetry collection for adults, New and Selected Poems, was a 1995 finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Award. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1997, because of his advocacy for reading, he was featured as NBC’s Person-of-the-Week. In 1999, he received the Literature Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, the Author-Illustrator Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association, and the PEN Center West Book Award for Petty Crimes. A prolific writer, Soto has authored picture books, middle grade novels, short stories, poetry for younger readers, YA novels, and books for adults and high school students. Other titles include: ACCIDENTAL LOVE, THE AFTERLIFE, TAKING SIDES, and BASEBALL IN APRIL AND OTHER STORIES.

YA NOVEL: BURIED ONIONS.

Buried Onions

FROM THE BOOK JACKET: All of my life everyone was pulling away from me—Father, my mom, Jesús, school friends, and homies who disappeared in three lines of the obituary column. I could have cried under the heat of Fresno, but it wouldn’t have mattered. My tears would have evaporated before anyone saw my sadness.

Fresno, California, is such a sorrowful place that nineteen-year-old Eddie imagines there must be onions buried underground, their vapors drawing tears from the residents above. Eddie is trying hard to stay out of trouble and make a decent living, but he’s not finding it easy—especially with his aunt urging him to avenge his cousin’s murder. Will Eddie get caught up in the violence he despises? Or can he escape this land of buried onions?

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults

An ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers

A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

MY TWO CENTS: Soto’s talent as a poet with a keen eye for detail and skill for beautiful description is always evident. The buried onion image runs throughout the novel, as Eddie navigates life in a community plagued by gang violence and few real options for a brighter future. Soto writes: “For me, there wasn’t much to do except eat and sleep, watch out for drive-bys, and pace myself through life. I had dropped out of City College, where I was taking classes in air-conditioning. I quit not long after my cousin, mi primo, Jesús got killed.” Eddie struggles to work honestly and ultimately has to decide whether to stay in Fresno or get out by joining the military. While this is a sad tale on many levels, there is hope in Eddie, who refuses to give in or give up.

LINKS for more information:

Find BURIED ONIONS on Amazon.com and Goodreads.

NEXT UP: ESPERANZA RISING by Pam Muñoz Ryan

National Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on Caridad Ferrer

To celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, I am highlighting an Hispanic author of young adult literature each week. At the end of the month, I will post a list of titles for those of you interested in reading YA novels written by Hispanic authors. I will continue to
chip away at the long list and post about them during the year because–hey, Hispanics should be celebrated year round! :.)

Here’s a link with more information about National Hispanic Heritage Month:

http://hispanicheritagemonth.gov/

And here’s a link for Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.

http://www.latinabookclub.com/

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is CARIDAD FERRER. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (this information is from the author’s website www.caridadferrer.com and her author page on amazon.com) Barbara Caridad Ferrer is a first generation, bilingual Cuban-American, born in Manhattan and raised in Miami. Her young adult debut, ADÍOS TO MY OLD LIFE won the Romance Writers of America’s 2007 RITA for Best Contemporary Single Title Romance. It was also named to ALA’s 2009 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list. Publisher’s Weekly said this about her second YA novel, IT’S NOT ABOUT THE ACCENT: “…this twisting book amply rewards readers.” She has also contributed to the anthology FIFTEEN CANDLES: 15 TALES OF TAFFETA, HAIRSPRAY, DRUNK UNCLES, AND OTHER QUINCEAÑERA STORIES and is a regular contributor to Romancing the Blog (www.romancingtheblog.com).

YA NOVEL: WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE, a contemporary retelling of Bizet’s CARMEN.

When the Stars Go Blue: A Novel

FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Dance is Soledad Reyes’s life. About to graduate from Miami’s Biscayne High School for the Performing Arts, she plans on spending her last summer at home teaching in dance studio, saving money, and eventually auditioning for dance companies. That is, until fate intervenes in the form of a fellow student Jonathan Crandall, who has what sounds like an outrageous proposition: Forget teaching. Instead, why not spend the summer performing in the intense environment of the competitive drum and bugle corps? The corps is going to be performing Carmen, and the opportunity to portray the character of the sultry gypsy proves too tempting for Soledad to pass up, as well as the opportunity to spend more time with Jonathan, who intrigues her in a way no boy ever has.

But in an uncanny echo of the story they perform every evening, an unexpected competitor for Soledad’s affections appears. One explosive encounter later, Soledad finds not only her relationship with Jonathan threatened but her entire future as a professional dancer in jeopardy.

MY TWO CENTS: While reading this, I could easily see how Ferrer won a Romance Writer’s award. The relationship between Soledad and Jonathan is hot, hot, hot. The romance grows complicated when another cutie, Taz, enters the story and Jonathan becomes increasingly jealous and possessive of Soledad. The story’s tragic turn leaves Soledad’s heart and body broken, but rest assured, the ending is happy and oh so sweet. Ferrer’s writing also shows some love for Miami, music, dance, and drum and bugle corps, with rich descriptions of each throughout the novel.

LINKS for more information:

Find WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE on Amazon.com and Goodreads.

NEXT UP: BURIED ONIONS by Gary Soto

National Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on Victor Martinez

Today marks the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15-October 15. To celebrate, I set up a book display in my classroom and invited my colleagues to read an Hispanic author this month. So far, no takers, but my school librarian did vow to order more books my Hispanic authors, which was great.

I also plan to highlight Hispanic authors of young adult literature. The list to choose from was long and my time to read is always limited. I didn’t get to as many as I had hoped, but at the end of the month, I will post a list of titles for those of you interested in reading YA novels written by Hispanic authors. I will continue to chip away at the long list and post about them during the year because–hey, Hispanics should be celebrated year round! :.)

Here’s a link with more information about National Hispanic Heritage Month:

http://hispanicheritagemonth.gov/

And here’s a link for Latina Book Club, a site by Maria Ferrer dedicated to promoting Hispanic authors and literacy.

http://www.latinabookclub.com/

And, today’s YA author in the spotlight is VICTOR MARTINEZ. Enjoy!

AUTHOR: (Most of this information came from the HarperCollins website) Victor Martinez, a Mexican-American poet and author, was born and raised in Fresno, California, the fourth in a family of twelve children. He attended California State University at Fresno and Stanford University, and has worked as a field laborer, welder, truck driver, firefighter, teacher, and office clerk. His poems, short stories, and essays have appeared in journals and anthologies. A week before he was nominated for the National Book Award, he read his poetry in public. Six people showed up. Three were his friends. After he won, he was interviewed by national media and his novel made its way into high school curriculums. The $10,000 prize was more than he had made the previous year. Martinez died on Feb. 18, 2011 a few days before his 57th birthday.

YA NOVEL: PARROT IN THE OVEN: MI VIDA

Parrot in the Oven: Mi vidaThis was Martinez’s debut novel and only YA title. He won the 1996 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Pura Belpre´Award. The novel was also listed on the Boston Globe-Horn Book Fanfare Honor List and Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 1996.

FROM THE BOOK JACKET: “Dad believed people were like money. You could be a thousand-dollar person or a hundred-dollar person–even a ten-, five-, or one-dollar person. Below that, everybody was just nickels and dimes. To my dad, we were pennies.”

Fourteen-year-old Manny Hernandez wants to be more than just a penny. He wants to be a vato firme, the kind of guy people respect. But that’s not easy when your father is abusive, your brother can’t hold a job, and your mother scrubs the house as if she can wash her troubles away. In Manny’s neighborhood, the way to get respect is to be in a gang. But Manny’s not sure that joining a gang is the solution. Because, after all, it’s his life–and he wants to be the one to decide what happens to it.

MY TWO CENTS: Martinez’s novel is written as a series of related vignettes, rather than in a traditional narrative arc, and his talent as a poet often shines through. Here’s an example:

When I neared the pharmacy, the sun was knifing a big blue hand through the ghosts of fog, sweeping them away like cobwebs. The maple trees on that street were dreary and weeping moisture, their stripped bark dusted with a glassy talcum of mist. But that, too, was melting. And when the wind came, little sneezes of drizzle sprayed my face.”

The novel’s format and style received some criticism from readers on Goodreads, but I liked both aspects. Manny’s voice is consistently poetic, so I accepted these beautifully written passages as part of the main character’s thought process, even though he is only 14. At times, while reading YA novels, I stop and think, “No teen-ager I know has ever used that word or would ever say that.” But in this case, I didn’t question the narrator’s observations. The writing pulled me in; I believed it was Manny’s voice. As for the vignettes, they were related and chronological for those needing to connect the plot’s dots.

LINKS for more information:

Find PARROT IN THE OVEN: MI VIDA on Amazon.com and Goodreads.

http://missionlocal.org/2011/02/remembering-award-winning-author-victor-martinez/

http://www.libraryjournal.com/slj/home/889629-312/author_poet_victor_martinez_dies.html.csp

http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-victor-martinez-20110303,0,5838556.story

NEXT UP: WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE by Caridad Ferrer

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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