YA is the Way to Go at the End of the School Year

Wednesday Wars  Okay for Now        I'll be there Just Call My Name       Red Kayak The journey Back

The fourth nine weeks reading list for our Seventh Graders is a YA Marathon. The students read Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, I’ll be There Holly Goldberg Sloan and Red Kayak by Pricilla Cummings.  Our students, overloaded with standardized tests and infected with Spring Fever devour these three action-packed novels at the time of year when kids and teachers alike are white knuckling it until June.

Inevitably students want to know what happens to each of the protagonists and I have the pleasure of sharing the good news.

Red Kayak has the sequel The Journey Back that follows up on Brady’s friend Digger. It is now available in paperback and eBook. Heartbreak and redemption- kind of.

 Wednesday Wars has the companion novel Okay for Now that picks up the story of a minor character and expands it. It is available in paperback and eBook. Funny stuff!

I’ll be There has a sequel coming out August 5th entitled Just Call My Name. It is available for preorder. Adventure, suspense and romance! Woo Hoo!

The YA Marathon has been a success for everyone. Students get about 700 pages of highly engaging reading under their belts with few complaints. In turn, teachers are rejuvenated by the students’ enthusiasm so late in the school year.  Kind of.:-)



Kon Tiki – An adventure like no other…

kon tiki in the sun

Kon Tiki:Across the Pacific on a Raft by Thor Heyerdahl is the most memorable adventure story ever.  It is available in mass market paperback and in older used hardback editions.

To be honest, it isn’t an easy read for a middle schooler but it is sooo worth it.  No modern navigational equipment, no communication, no safety vessel trailing behind them.

Six men, a balsa wood raft, a parrot named Lorita, and the wide wide Pacific Ocean. The reader will be gulping for air along side the crew through rogue waves and foul weather. The marine life they discover and encounter is carefully detailed.

I have an old hardback copy of this book with maps and photos. Each year, I am on the lookout for the student who I think would enjoy it most and I loan it to the student with the guarantee that it is the greatest adventure ever.  Every few years, I ask my colleagues if we can put it on the 7th grade booklist but in reality, it is too long and too difficult.  But I’ll keep trying.

Thor Heyerdahl’s faith in his theory, his bravery and even his leadership skills seem to be a rare thing these days which is why it is so important to read and reread his story.

This month there will be a limited release of the movie which is getting rave reviews.  It was filmed in Norway simultaneously in Norwegian and in English.  Below is a link to the Carpetbagger blog post about the making of the movie.


Movie Trailer:

YA Authors Gidwitz, Jobling, Rodkey, and West are on the Endangered Authors! Tour and it is Awesome!

A tale Darka nd GrimmwereworlddeadweatherBooks of Elsewhere

Books and Books, our community’s independent bookstore, works year round to bring authors into local schools. Last week we had the extraordinary pleasure of being part of The Endangered Authors! Tour.

The game show style presentation involved four talented YA authors: Adam Gidwitz, Curtis Jobling, Geoff Rodkey, and Jacqueline West.  All four have their own take on “creepy” and were well matched. Penguin Young Readers Group, with the help of the Story Pirates, created an interactive presentation that required teams of students to save their author from a terrible fate.

Forty of our students, divided into teams, read a book by one of the authors. The students had a few weeks to read the book independently and then were given classroom space before school for team meetings. Students reviewed the book and created any props they wanted to bring to the contest.

On the day of the event, there were 200 students in the audience and the teams representing each author.  Many children never have the opportunity to meet one author and our students were meeting four!  Actor Peter McNerney hosted the game show. He was masterful at managing the middle school age group and hysterically funny – not an easy balance to obtain.  Each author had time to share information about themselves and their writing before the teams answered questions about their books. Fortunately, the groups were well prepared and all of the authors lived to write another day.

For students and teachers, author visits are like meeting an old friend and a rock star simultaneously.  There’s an reader-author connection because of our love of the novel- a sense already knowing the writer and- a sense of awe in finally getting to shake hands with them.

Before and after the show, Adam, Curtis, Geoff and Jacqueline talked with the teams, took pictures and inspired many children to read for pleasure and develop their hobbies. After all, that’s what they did; and look how well it turned out for them!

I am including the author websites below.  They are touring until the end of April and, if they aren’t in your town, follow their adventures on their websites or “Like” their Facebooks pages so you can keep up with them. And, of course, read their highly entertaining novels- they are a sure thing!

Adam Gidwitz            www.adamgidwitz.com

Curtis Jobling             http://www.wereworldbooks.com

Geoff Rodkey             www.geoffrodkey.com

Jacqueline West        www.jacquelinewest.com

If you are in the Miami area, Books and Books in Coral Gables has autographed copies of the novels.  Be sure to “Like” Books and Books on Facebook to be alerted about upcoming YA author events at all of their locations.

eBooks are perfect for summer reading and now you can save money!

ereadersI am always looking for specials on eBooks.  I get the Kindle Daily Deal and now I have signed up for Bookbub.  It is a daily newsletter that is geared towards your reading preferences. For example, when I enrolled, I checked off mysteries, teen and young adult and bestsellers.  When I skim through the daily newsletter, I click on “buy“ and it takes me to amazon.com because I indicated I have a Kindle.  The eBooks are reduced or even free so I am able to grow my summer reading options inexpensively.  (Don’t judge me, summer vacation starts in 11 weeks!)

I’ve been on the Bookbub mailing list for a few weeks now and have picked up a half dozen books by authors I can count on a few free for a limited time, a few for as low as $2.99.

Here is the link: http://wwwbookbub/home/index.php

Be sure to read their “About” statement and their guarantee.

Author Access a Great Opportunity for Readers and Writers

I won a signed copy of Elephant Run!

I won a signed copy of Elephant Run!

As my students know, I am a HUGE Roland Smith fan. He is a great storyteller with fast moving plots and smart, compassionate characters. As I hand a student any one of his books, I can guarantee that it is “the-best-book-ever” which raises my creditability several notches when they later agree with me. He writes stories that will make kids better readers and ultimately life long readers.

Roland Smith does something else really well: he is very assessable to his readers. He travels a lot and can even Skype in for a school visit. Equally important is his strong online presence with his website, blog and Facebook page.

He holds a monthly contest and winners are drawn at the end of the month. The best part is that winners get a signed copy of a Roland Smith novel. My copy of Elephant Run just arrived last week and I took it to school to share with my students. Believe me, they were impressed.:-) The four paperback copies in my class library were snapped up that day.

The opportunities for kids today are awesome; a genre they can call their own, access to their favorite authors’ via the Internet. Teachers are equally lucky; there are book trailers, professional and student made, online. Using the trailers to kick off a lesson takes 2 minutes and is so much more interesting to the students. Lesson plans and videos instantly available to help build the all important background knowledge. If you aren’t taking full advantage of the information available via Internet, you are short changing yourself and your students.

As teachers, we need to share author websites because it helps us help kids be better, more engaged readers. It also helps writers get to know their readers and get feedback on their books. Readers have always identified with the characters in their favorite stories and now they can identify with the writers as well.

Help your reluctant readers reach out to their favorite writers-it may make them avid readers instead.


My first experience with the power of the Internet as a reader-to-writer-connection came about 10 years ago when my students read Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples.  This book is about a 13-year-old girl in Pakistan named Shabanu whose sister is about to be married.  She and her family live in the desert and raise camels.  The story is one of arranged marriages and customs that create a mountain of questions for American students today.  It is stunning in its simplicity of story, in its descriptions of the Pakistan deserts and that 13 year olds in the United States can identify with Shabanu, a character in a story that takes place a world away.

Two of my students, best friends, “found” Suzanne Fisher Staples via the Internet and emailed her asking if she would please come to our school.  They quickly received a reply that she would be happy to.  She told them to have their teacher contact her to discuss arrangements. These girls found me early the next morning and gave me her email address.  I emailed her, and I must say I was a little intimidated to be writing an award-winning author! It wasn’t done in my days as a teenager, or at that point, as an adult.  Writers were mysterious people we had little access to.

Staples did come to speak to our 400 7th graders, bringing with her beautiful slides of Pakistan’s Cholistan Desert and the camel that is she includes in the novel.

Students asked brilliant questions: “Is Shabanu a real person?” Actually,  she is a composite of many girls and women Staples met while she was a reporter in Pakistan.

“Why did you write the sequel to Shabanu in first person but not Shabanu?” It wasn’t something she realized she was doing initially. It was the way it needed to be told.

She signed every copy of Shabanu for every student and then sat down with one last student who wanted to be a writer and was already a prize-winning poet.  The student waited at the end of the line to meet Suzanne and said, “I want to talk business with you. I want to write.”

They talked for over an hour in the back of my classroom while her grandmother and her best friend waited outside. What Suzanne didn’t know at the time was that student’s mother was battling leukemia and she was living with her grandmother while her mother sought treatment out of state.  That girl and her best friend dropped in for a visit last year.  Her mom is doing well, she is in college and still writing and yes, that was one of the greatest days of her life.

Suzanne had lunch with the students who contacted her. Imagine! Dined with the families of the girls and spent the night at one family’s home.  Absolutely a dream come true for two of her biggest fans and their teacher.

All these years later, authors have web pages, Facebook pages, blogs, and even Youtube channels.  Kids have access that was unheard of 20 years ago.

Parents and and teachers need to take advantage of these resources and the access we have to our favorite authors.  Google your child’s favorite author and you’ll find all kinds of great stuff including “book trailers” for their books, interviews, web pages with contact information for teachers and readers.  If you know a reluctant reader, what better way to change that?

Really cool stuff I have found:

  • Roland Smith, author of Peak and MANY other high interest novels, giving a video tour of his home office where he does his writing. He also has a website with monthly contests and a Facebook Page too.
  • Neal Shusterman’s great website and a Facebook page where he posts contests and often asks readers to help him with character names.
  • Judy Bloom’s website.
  • Lois Lowry’s website with information on her final book in The Giver series.
  • Nonfiction author Russell Freedman’s interviews on Youtube.
  • Book trailers.
  • Skype visits

The Internet provides readers a look into the writing process, their favorite writer’s life and provides publishing information for new books.  Readers want to know about the life of their favorite writer, they want to identify with the writer and a web page provides the information.  These days, it isn’t always possible to email the author directly, but the website will have that information. If you have Facebook account and are willing to LIKE an author page, you can share the posts with your child.

Suzanne Fisher Staples’ visit was a once in a lifetime event for many of the students. Live and in person author visits many be hard to come by, but via the Internet, we have lots of alternatives. Does Suzanne Fisher Staples do marathon school visits like the one she did back in 2002?  Let me check her website….

Google Street View Goes to Antarctica

I am reposting this because: it is REALLY Cool and it reminds me of a fantastic historical fiction book by Victoria Mckernan called Shackleton’s Stowaway. I love wilderness adventures and this certainly qualifies! Kids would love to see the actual Google Street View Goes to Antarctica before or after reading the novel. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage is a nonfiction account of the voyage- it is not YA but for your super motivated kid seeking more info, this is the book to send them to. It is told from journal accounts and survivors interviews. This would be an excellent teacher resource!