Tag Archives: book titles

#FridayReads: 6 Ways to Stir Up Your Daily Book Talk

I’m not sure if it is because we are on the cusp of cold weather or that we just ended quarter one, but my students are dragging.  They rub their eyes more in the morning, carry in larger cups of coffee, and stoop a little lower in their chairs.

This lethargy seeps into even my strongest classes, which is why I like to change up my approach to book talks from time to time to re-energize students before they dive into their independent reading books.  Here are five ways I stir up my book talks.

  1. Musical Chairs: Music is naturally energizing and I love getting books in students’ hands FullSizeRenderquickly. This is “played” like typical musical chairs, the main difference is that students who sit in a chair also get to look at the book that has been placed on the desk behind them (I have separated desks and chairs so I face the chairs outwards).  The student left without a chair writes a “mini-book talk” on the board, which includes the title of the book they have read this year, the author, how many stars it would receive out of five, and a quick sentence to get readers interested.
  2. Group Book Talks: Getting students chatting about books is one way to ramp up energy at the start of class. My desks are grouped into fours, so students turn to their group members and book talk their current book (or a book they read prior).  Oftentimes there are repeat book talks from books I previously shared, but I reiterate the value of multiple perspectives and opinions.  What others notice as readers might be something I never thought to share.
  3. Guest Book Talks: I’ve spent years chatting with my favorite library staff about new YA books,FullSizeRender-3 but sadly it didn’t dawn on me to tap into their brilliance until this year.  Our phenomenal librarian Kathy Vetter book talked Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates to my AP Literature students, and our AV and computer lab guru, Melissa Ciotti, book talked Little Brother by Cory Doctorow to my freshman classes.  By the end of their visits, all copies had been checked out of both the classroom and school libraries.  Next up, I have a PE teacher…and hopefully our principal! Students need positive reading role models in all of their educators.
  4. Speed Dating: I have mentioned speed dating with books multiple times before, but it is one of my favorite ways to get books off my shelves and into my students’ hands. I typically put the desks in a circle and have students rotate the books every minute or so, but I love Amy’s approach as well.
  5. Book Talk Puzzle: This is a longer project, but I love the final product.
    Students piece together their final book talk puzzle.

    Students piece together their final book talk puzzle.

    Students write out book talks on large puzzle pieces.  I have students discuss their favorite parts of the book and to whom they might recommend it.  Finally they draw their favorite scene, symbols, or images from the book.  Once the puzzle pieces are complete, we share our final products, build the puzzle, and put it on display for our peers.

  6. Book Trailers: I had my Advanced Composition students complete book trailers last year. The final films were phenomenal and provided excellent material for this year’s book talks.  I oftentimes play the film for my students then read an excerpt to expose them to the language.  There are some brilliant book trailers here and sprinkled across the Internet and TTT.

What do you do to change up your book talk schedule during the year? What are some unique ways you introduce your students to various titles?


Top Books for Reluctant High School Readers

IMG_2877“I’m not a reader.” I hear this multiple times during my first weeks of conferencing. The non-readers are easily identifiable; their body language alone speaks volumes of their disdain for books.

“You just haven’t found the right book,” I tell them, and they smirk, knowing they’ve heard that statement before.

The first week of school is a vital week of matching students with books, and while I itch to recommend titles, I hold back, giving my freshmen the independence and freedom they so desperately crave in high school. Too often students blindly accept recommendations without so much as a thought to the contents. They lack self-awareness when it comes to their reading interests or style, which is why those first two weeks are essential to not only organizing but also empowering them through choice.

Throughout the week, I book talk popular titles, engage in “speed dating” with books, and provide ample free time for students to explore our classroom library, but I also get out of their way. Instead of telling them what to read, I model ways to find a strong candidate, considering reviews, awards, contents, genres, and summaries.

While the majority of the class tends to quickly settle into their books, there are always stragglers who remain convinced they’ll never enjoy reading. These students sometimes grab the first book they see off the shelf, and oftentimes these books are too dense, difficult, or in some cases “boring.” That is okay! I settle into conferences with these students, getting to know their hobbies and eventually handing them two or three books that might pique their interest. In the end, they still choose what to read, but in the process they might require some initial guidance.

IMG_2870Regardless of who picks the book, the end result remains the same—to find a plot that envelops and consumes students, forcing them into the story. Here are some of my number one titles that tend to break down the shell of even the most reluctant readers.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I’ve already had three students read this book, one of which is Leah, a gamer and self-identified non-reader. When I asked if she has ever had a favorite book, she thought for a second then said, “I think this one might be the only book I’ve ever really liked.”

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen

Adrian initially picked a sequel to a book he read last year. “You must have liked the first one then?” I asked.

“Not really,” he replied. “I just didn’t know what else to read.” The next day he picked up The Compound, which is full of the fast-paced suspense he craves.

Paper Towns and Looking for Alaskaand basically everything by John Green.

I chased Emily up the stairs for this recommendation. When I asked her which one sparked her interest in reading, she said she couldn’t remember which had sucked her in. She just knew that despite her protestations at the beginning of the year, by the end she “loved them both.”

The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

Damion had only ever loved one book and he was bound and determined not to like any in my classroom; that is until he came across this futuristic, survival story. Upon sitting down beside him for a mini-conference last year, he looked away from his book briefly to say, “Ms. Catcher, I’m at a really good part and I can’t talk right now.”

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

“I’ve had people give me ‘dark’ books before, but they aren’t dark at all,” Sarah tells me. I hand her three options, one of which is Gone Girl. Three days later she tells me, “I’ve spent my whole life hating books, and you’re the first teacher who ever found one I actually liked.”

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I book talked Unwind second this year. It’s a given crowd pleaser because of its twisted plot and graphic scenes. The fact that I only have one copy of my four originals is a testament to its popularity.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Carter claims he hasn’t read a book cover-to-cover since third grade, but he has fallen in love with Chbosky’s classic on teenage life. He said to me today, “Ms. Catcher, I love that this book talks about real things, things that are actually happening to us.”

“That book is only the beginning, Carter,” I said

What books do you recommend for reluctant readers?  Which titles are most popular in your classroom?

#FridayReads: Some of the Classics


Alice in Wonderland pop-up book – full with rich colors, adventure, and 3D visuals.

“Oh, one of your students is reading Alice in Wonderland?!  I love that.  Are they captivated by it?  I wrote my entire master’s thesis on that piece.”

Last year, a colleague of mine was through the roof to hear about some of the children’s classics that my students were engaging in:  E.B. White’s pieces, Peter Pan, The Secret Garden, The Tao of Pooh, Alice in Wonderland – which holds a very special place in her heart.  But, for some reason students across the board have been guided away from these treasures.  Why are we steering them away from the simplicity of tapping into their inner nostalgia, re-entering times in their lives where there was quiet innocence and a simplicity that innately dissipates as we mature?


In between reading The Classroom and The Cell and I Am Malala, this young man enjoyed the layered themes of a charming classic.

Charlotte’s Web was just as powerful for me as a thirty-something adult as it was as a seven-year-old little girl.  The latter was an opportunity to finish a chapter book full with robust (animal) characters and an opportunity to connect with Fern, the moralist. The former was a rich experience as I explored the theme of love, relationships, sacrifice, and an understanding of death (as I had recently lost my grandmother).

One of the important elements of the Readers Writers Workshop model is the idea of roller coaster reading. As Penny Kittle adequately puts it; adults read books on all different levels based on interest – students deserve the same.

I couldn’t agree more.

Think back to a time you dedicated your reading to a piece that was difficult – for you – for whatever reasons affiliated with that experience.  Often times, we decide to ‘take it easy’ once we’ve conquered a book of that caliber.  We’ll play with levels and genres and graphic novels and page numbers…and any other factors that play into our decision making.  But, we typically veer from the intensity.

Until we’re ready to try again.  And, we typically are ready at some point because we experienced the pride that comes with such a challenge.  It just may not be our next book…or the one after that…  But, we will find ourselves back there because it’s important to do so.  Students will too.

Roller Coaster Reading : All readers should have the luxury to go on such a ride!

Roller Coaster Reading : All readers should have the luxury to go on such a ride!

And while there is the push for lexile reading, and all of the other ways to monitor student reading, we must let students read what their souls ache for.  Whether it be luxuriating in a time of childhood innocence or challenging their vocabulary with a much more difficult piece.  When we provide space for students to explore (and yes, children’s books included) students find the roller coaster that suits them – a bit of scare and intrigue balanced with comfort and adventure.

A wonderful way to provide students the opportunity to monitor such reading is through the creation of a Reading Ladder.  (Scroll down to Q1 and Q3 to find information on how to create ladders and see examples.)  Simply, by reading various books on differing levels, students have the opportunity to review their learning, progress, fluency, and stamina…all the while having choice.

This year, I intend to watch our I’ll Always Be A Kid shelf grow as more and more students find themselves drawn to some of the classics from their childhood.  A handful of students love this shelf because they reminisce about reading (or having that book read to them) while others are exploring children’s literature for the first time.  Our adolescent parents are intrigued as they scope for titles that they want to bring home to read to their own little ones – because passing on the gift of literacy is priceless.  Regardless of the rationale, students end up falling in love with the magic.

What hesitations or fears surface when thinking about high school students reading children’s literature?

#FridayReads: What do Amy Poehler and Sherman Alexie have in common?

Personifying art--one piece from a student's multigenre project.

Personifying art–one piece from a student’s multigenre project.

Both my students and I love funky writing—the weird eccentricities of modern print where authors dabble with a variety of fonts, writing styles, photographs, and formats. There’s something about that departure from the norm that draws us in, holds our attention, and keeps us reading just to see what is on the next page.

In turn, when I began the multigenre project based on Tom Romano’s book Blending Genre, Altering Style: Writing Multigenre Papers, I knew I needed a new set of mentor texts to help guide my students’ writing. I loved sitting down to stacks of multigenre papers, and my students loved reading each other’s work. The problem was my students rarely had strong examples to guide them in developing the continuity that comes with one paper on one topic written through multiple genres. And so the search began.

This year, one of my new classroom shelves includes “multigenre books.” The benefits are twofold: students will become familiar with the multigenre concept before even being introduced to the project and they will see the unique ways a wide variety of authors diversify their work. The greatest part is that multigenre writing extends across a variety of literary genres.

Here are some highlights from my new collection:

41HGJKFdW3L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_51uJcmUm23L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan—Has an entire chapter in PowerPoint slides. How cool!

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple—Amusing memos and e-mails illustrate character development and voice.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – Hilarious doodles, caricatures, and cartoons. One ofmy all time favorite books!

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer—Every year I have to assure a student that the red ink wasn’t a student’s bored graffiti; it really is part of the author’s the writing.

In the Company of Whispers by Sallie Lowenstein – Includes family letters and black-and-white photographs.

Eyes Wide Open by Paul Fleischman – Great use of infographics for research.

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (author) Maira Kalman (illustrator)—Not only is it written in letter form, but the letters are about individual objects, all of which are accompanied by gorgeous illustrations.

The Art of Secrets by James Klise—Letters, articles, lists, and shifting perspectives keep you interested.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Rosenthal—Rosenthal not only wrote a memoir in encyclopedia entries, but she also made reading encyclopedia entries fun.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler—There are two pages devoted to haikus on plastic surgery. What more is there to say?

Your turn! What multigenre books might you suggest? What are some new shelves you’ll be adding to your classroom library this year?

Wrapping up with book trailers

After a slew of snow days and an extended year that pushed the end of school into the second-to-last week of June, my students’ motivation lagged as we approached our final month together. They needed an engaging project that still proved to be challenging and fun. Inspired by Amy’s work, my students and I celebrated the end of the reader’s workshop with a final book trailer project.

The process was organic; students latched onto the idea of watching mentor texts and dissecting the craft to gain a firmer understanding of the writing genre. Over the course of a few days, we analyzed and discussed the differences between the book and movie trailers for John Green’s upcoming film Paper Towns, a class favorite. We combed through countless examples of professional book trailers, dissecting the craft of the films and looking at the cinematography, hook, pacing, script, music, and scene choices. Finally, after brainstorming and storyboarding, students used Stupeflix, WeVideo, Puppet Edu, or iMovie to generate stunning book trailers. The results blew me away.  Here is a small sample of some of the trailers I’ll be using to supplement my book talks next year.

**Make sure to unmute the video. In some cases, the sound doesn’t automatically play.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown–Created by Matt


Perfect by Ellen Hopkins–Created by Emily

Missing Pieces by Meredith Tate–Created by Alyssa

Looking for Alaska by John Green–Created by Tristan

Missing Pieces by Meredith Tate

24903132I love receiving e-mails from students—not the “Is this due tomorrow?” or “Why do I have a zero in PowerSchool?” e-mails—but the ones that are written bleary-eyed, late at night (or sometimes early in the morning) from students who have just finished a book. Recently, Alyssa, one of my Advanced Composition juniors e-mailed me at 10:30pm after finishing Missing Pieces. She wrote:

“Wow, I just finished the book and I am completely shocked! Was definitely not expecting…[Can’t put this in because I don’t want to spoil it!]…I am extremely happy the way it ended! This was most certainly one of my favorite books that I read this year and if any of my friends ask for a recommendation I would without a doubt recommend it.”

As a teacher, finding a book students can connect with is a victory! But in this, case the victory was even sweeter. I grew up with Meredith Tate, the author of Missing Pieces, and even as children playing in the sandbox at our tiny four-classroom elementary school, Meredith knew how to weave a story.

Missing Pieces is the story of Tracey (Trace) and Piren, two best friends growing up in a dystopian world where they are matched with their spouses at six years old based on genetic compatibility. Despite Trace and Piren’s undeniable friendship and eventual attraction, they are paired with different partners. It is a fight between fate and free will.

While the plot might sound generic, resembling the many dystopian romances novels we’ve seen lately, Meredith succeeds in weaving together a distinctly unique story. Trace and Piren are flawed and frustrating and real. They live in a world of messy mistakes. As a social worker, Meredith doesn’t skirt around issues of alcoholism and abuse—instead she confronts them head-on, addressing the harsh, debilitating nature of addiction. I love that this book doesn’t cleanly fit into any distinct genre—it’s a romance, but it isn’t mawkish; it’s categorized as “new adult” but it begins when the protagonist is 14 years old; it’s dystopian yet it distinctly resembles modern society. Despite the numerous questions posed throughout the book (including those in the excerpt below), we learn that life is a series of difficult decisions; it’s the pure beauty of this rawness that makes this book relevant to teenagers.

“What if the one you’re supposed to be with, and the one you want to be with, are two different people? My entire life was mapped out for me before I was born. Is my only choice to silently follow the course already plotted? To blindly accept my future and walk that trail until I die? To smile and pretend everything is okay and I’m happy and in love with my Partner when I’m spiraling downward and drowning in my loneliness? I’m drowning, like in my childhood nightmares. Only this isn’t a nightmare; I can’t wake up from this life.”

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King

17453303John Green says that “A.S. King is one of the best Y.A. writers working today,” and who doesn’t trust everything John Green says?  (Except for when you trust him for 246 entire pages, and then your trust is shattered, and you ruin a book with your tears, but I digress.)

Having fallen madly in love with A.S. King’s writing during Everybody Sees the Ants, I have been waiting for my students to return Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future to my library so I could read it.  Without ever having booktalked it, its catchy cover caught students’ eyes and enticed them to dive right in.

Finally, yesterday, I spotted it on the shelf and took it outside in the sun with my class to begin reading.  Surrounded by seniors mere weeks before their graduation, I was in the perfect setting to immerse myself in Glory’s story, which takes place over two weeks bracketing her high school graduation.  She’s a photographer for the yearbook, keeping herself distant from her peers by hiding behind a camera.  Her only “friend” is her neighbor Ellie, who’s lived beside her ever since Glory’s mother committed suicide thirteen years ago.  Ellie doesn’t understand the worry Glory has that she’ll end up like her mother–and Glory is terrified of, dreading, trapped by, her own uncertain future.

That all changes after a wild night, after which Glory and Ellie can suddenly see the future.  Glory begins to record these transmissions, in which, upon eye contact with anyone, she can see the actions of their distant ancestors and descendants.  The glimpses of the future reveal a future American Civil War, the complete reversal of feminism, and a tangled web of people she knows mixed up in all of this.

“We were fed onto the stage like machine parts.  We were a conveyor belt of future.  We were an assembly line of tomorrow.  We were handed our diplomas and stood to face the audience and they were asked not to clap until the end, but some did anyway. … I stood and faced the crowd and heard a static of epic proportions.  Chatter of a thousand infinities all at once.”

Deciding to chronicle her transmissions through a scrapbook modeled after one of her mother’s creation, Glory writes her own “History of the Future,” and it’s bleak.  As the novel progresses, the darkness of the future becomes more certain, but so does Glory’s understanding of herself–a trade-off she’s not sure how to handle.

With beautiful language, dark humor, powerful lessons, and themes of mystery, love, redemption, friendship, and foreboding–all set against the backdrop of high school graduation–I can see now why this book is never on my shelves.  I’ll be happy as it continues to remain in the hands of teens getting a refresher on feminism, individuality, and the pursuit of happiness.

“Sounds so convenient, right? Me not having a mom and my dad being all great about it and stuff.  But it wasn’t like that.  The air was tense.  We still had no oven.  My cobbler still tasted like radiation, no matter how much ice cream I piled onto it.  I could feel the secrets in the soil here. … Something was about to sprout and grow from that soil.  I could feel it the same as I could see the mourning dove into infinity.”

Behind Barbed Wires

sticker,375x360.u1In honor of the recent Holocaust Remembrance Day, I find it befitting to share Room 382’s shelf comprised of pieces in which those, who experienced the nightmare, share their stories.  Each piece on this shelf is dedicated to bringing awareness, and hopefully shed light on how history truly can repeat itself, if we do not prevent it.

While this shelf hosts stories of tragedy, suffering, and insurmountable pain and loss; it serves a purpose. Aside from the devastating, these pieces share with us the true essence of humanity.  Often, this is the first time students are diving into this 80-year-old genocide and trying to make sense of it. Many times we can’t; and other times we are able to connect over the beauty that surfaced. It’s all very complex.

Elie Wiesel’s story (and bravery) is shared via his trilogy starting with Night then moving us through Dawn and eventually through the Day.  See what he did here?

Anne Frank shares her experience as a young woman budding into adolescence in a time where her beautiful spirit defeated the confines of her attic.  Various types of literature have been compiled so IMG_20150424_083609students (and all readers) can experience Anne’s story in various ways: her published diary, actual footage restored via the Anne Frank House (a gift from a friend’s visit to Amsterdam), the play, and many others.

Maus, an incredible two-part graphic novel, utilizes the “Cat and Mouse” metaphor to portray the Nazis
vs. the Jews during the Holocaust.  This two part series is detailed and brings to life the realities of the inner workings; the emotional turmoil yet amazing perseverance of those living through this moment in history.

Those are three pieces among many.  There are books here (and ones that are currently signed out) that chronicle voices of the children of the Holocaust, novels that use real-life situations yet tell a fictional story, perspectives from a Nazi’s Jewish wife, the bravery of a journalist who swapped places with a Jew to ultimately expose the hidden…

Students are typically surprised, fascinated, uncertain, saddened and sometimes hesitant when it comes to this shelf.  Understandably.  This shelf asks us to inquire and then sit with our findings.  Yet, the conversations and rich discussions that float around this shelf are beautiful; truly beautiful and strengthen our understanding of what it truly means to be human.



In Search of Hope

mariane pearl book coverI first fell in love with Mariane Pearl’s writing when I read her memoir: A Mighty Heart where she chronicles the events leading up to her husband’s murder in the Middle East.  It was devastating.  Tragic, really.  Yet, her voice sang from the pages even while sharing the most intimate moments associated with a murder that was so incredibly public.

So, to no surprise, when I came across In Search of Hope: The Global Diaries of Mariane Pearl,  I was thrilled. Pearl, a journalist for Glamour Magazine, took on the world – visiting twelve different countries. She was escorted through these countries by powerful women that are all on missions to bring positivity, safety, and change to countries that are broken.

Pearl visits with courageous women who share the most private details of their work – and passion.  She learns about a Cambodian sex slave’s liberation; Liberia’s presidency from the perspective of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006); an AIDs orphan turned healer in Uganda; a New Yorker who leads children needing guidance; how justice is getting a voice in Mexico…and so much more.

As you read these short stories full with dynamite photographs, writing that is powerful, and experiences that shed light on women fighting through the injustices associated with their countries, culture, and neighborhoods; you can’t help but to feel as though you are on a year long excursion around the world – one that authentically changes your core as a human being.

Students love this piece.  They are awed by the bravery of these women; Mariane for exposing truths that do not get adequate recognition and the women who are willing to risk their own safety in order to save others.  For every reader, Pearl puts life into perspective.

The richness found within these pages comforts you.  It makes you believe that anything truly is possible.  Well, because it is.  It provides students access to beautiful moments experienced within other cultures and propels them to reflect on their own morals and values – what are they really willing to fight for?

In Search of Hope is a piece that leaves you feeling compelled to explore.  Travel.  Find your own truth.  And when you do, write about it.

Shelfie Saturday

sticker,375x360.u1While my last name is Catcher, I’m far from a natural athlete. In fact, my high school softball career ended after I “caught” a stray throw with my forehead, landing me in the ER with a swollen eye and thirteen stitches. Still, I can appreciate a brilliant sports story, the type that moves beyond the game and captures the essence of teamwork, leadership, and friendship. The “Sports” section of my classroom library does just this.

Over the past year, I have cultivated the sports section to reflect the varied abilities, ages, and interests of my students. I teach freshmen, juniors, and seniors ranging from struggling to gifted readers. Because of my diverse students, my library must appeal to 14-year old freshmen and 18-year old seniors alike. Fortunately, sports can oftentimes bridge this age gap while also pushing students to gradually engage with more complex texts.

My somewhat anemic-looking sports section.  Many of the books (particularly the ones not pictured here) have waiting lists and won't return to this shelf until the end of the year.

My somewhat anemic-looking sports section. Many of the books (particularly the ones not pictured here) have waiting lists and won’t return to this shelf until the end of the year.

My younger students (and even some of my older) tend to gravitate towards popular young adult novels at the beginning of the year, like those written by Matt de la Pena and Mike Lupica. After they exhaust the options on my shelves, they inch towards lengthier and more complex analytical or historical books like Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game by financial journalist Michael Lewis or The Punch by sports writer and commentator John Feinstein. More than any other genre, these brilliantly crafted pieces serve as strong mentor texts for a wide variety of mediums including nonfiction, narrative, research, and persuasive writing. This year, books like Ice Time by Jay Atkinson inspired many of my hockey players to explore their sport through personal narratives while Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella served as the basis for one of my freshman student’s research papers on the Black Sox Scandal.

Sports hold leverage within our society, particularly amongst teenagers. From die-hard fans to benchwarmers, both athletes and non-athletes can appreciate a sports story, particularly when it transports us into a world packed with suspense and action.

Join the conversation by posting your own shelfies!  Share a shelfie with #shelfieshare and let us know if it’s a #classroomshelfie, #bookstoreshelfie, or other miscellaneous find.

%d bloggers like this: