Tag Archives: book titles

It goes far beyond your Everyday story

51i318LHixL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If you doubt, question, or undermine the complexity or rigor of young adult literature, read Everyday by David Levithan. Despite the book’s bland beige and gray cover, there is nothing dull or colorless about this story. It is a philosophical and, in my opinion, a political statement that calls into question what it means to be an individual in today’s world.

In the book, A is a genderless soul that inhabits a different body everyday (hence the title). The conflict is that A, in the first chapter, falls in love with Rhiannon, the girlfriend of a boy whose body A currently inhabits. Don’t worry; it isn’t as confusing as it sounds. This simple love story leads its readers to question what defines gender and even love as A inhabits different bodies throughout the book. Furthermore, A questions what the difference is between the soul and the body and how they can function as one or even two distinct beings.

David Levithan captures the beauty and innocence of being human through the simple yet straight forward perspective of A, an old soul with deep knowledge: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: We all want everything to be okay. We don’t even wish so much for fantastic or marvelous or outstanding. We will happily settle for okay, because most of the time, okay is enough.” A goes on to one of my favorite passages of the book, a passage that is great for book talking and providing a brief teaser without giving anything away.

I am a drifter, and as lonely as that can be, it is also remarkably freeing. I will never define myself in terms of anyone else. I will never feel the pressure of peers or the burden of parental expectation. I can view everyone as pieces of a whole, and focus on the whole, not the pieces. I have learned how to observe, far better than most people observe. I am not blinded by the past or motivated by the future. I focus on the present, because that is where I am destined to live.

“I learn. Sometimes I am taught something I have already been taught in dozens of others classrooms. Sometimes I am taught something completely new. I have to access the body, access the mind and see what information it’s retained. And when I do, I learn. Knowledge is the only thing I take with me when I go” (Levithan 6).

As a teacher, it is easy to love this passage. After all, it ends with the value of learning, but beyond that, this page (the entirety of page 6) shows A’s struggle with defining him/herself as an individual. Not only is there minimal diversification in the sentence starters, but A uses the personal pronoun “I” 25 times in just one page: “I would,” “I took,” “I felt,” “I am,” etc. This practice goes against the rule of what we oftentimes teach to young writers—stray away from using I at the beginning of every sentence. Levithan’s willingness to break the rules and question the norm is what makes this piece both a masterful mentor text and thought provoking must-read.

I Am Malala…Too!

From the moment I learned of Malala Yousafzai, she captured my heart.  Two short years ago, this young woman was targeted by the Taliban in Pakistan for her activism in support of accessible education for females.  She went to great lengths to ensure she, and her female classmates, were granted the right to their education.  And that was all before her life changed drastically on that fateful day when the Taliban tried to silence her through unthinkable violence.

Yet, she lives to tell about it.

Not only does she live to tell about it; she writes about it, campaigns about it, continues to fight for it.  So, it is no wonder that just yesterday, Malala was granted the honor of a shared Nobel Peace Prize for her unshakable efforts, astounding heroism, and courageous bravery.

Here’s what I love even more:


There are two versions of her story!

In the more complex version (right) aside from learning the intricacies of Malala’s extraordinary life, it chronicles the inner workings of Pakistan, its politics, its back story, and so much more.  It vividly weaves us through the timeline of events taking place in a country that Malala (til this day) calls home.  We visit her classroom, accompany her while doing chores at home, meet her family, join her while eating the foods of the land, watch fearfully as the Taliban circles the streets…This is the piece I read.  Students willing to take on a piece sprinkled with higher level vocabulary and concepts, also enjoy it thoroughly.

And in exposing students to Malala and her cause, we visit her on Facebook at: MalalaFund, on Twitter at @Malala, and on the internet at http://www.malala.org.  We also support the “I Stand with Malala” initiative by sharing our love for literature with the world!


So, when Patricia McCormick decided to pair up with Malala to create a YA version of her story, I (and students) could not have been more thrilled.  This piece (left) is written in a more linear fashion.  While it would be remiss to alleviate all of Pakistan’s intricacies, it focuses more on Malala and her journey.  It is a narrative that provides students an opportunity to learn about this incredible young woman, be motivated by her desire to push agendas in the most positive of ways, and gently guides them through an understanding of what life is like for those fighting for their basic right to education.  This piece pairs beautifully with students who have a thirst for knowledge yet are still diligently building their literacy skills.

And so I recommend Malala finds her way (in both forms) into each one of our classrooms.  Let her spark a fire within our students.  Let her show us the way to having the world hear our voices.  Let her age be only a number.  As Malala so eloquently states at the end of the Prologue:  Who is Malala?  I am Malala and this is my story.

And, what a story it is.


Painting With Words: Sold

c_soldPatricia McCormick is a painter. Not literally, but she might as well be given the way she writes. Her vivid imagery and poetic prose paired with her short vignettes make Sold a must-read.

Somehow, Patricia makes the heavy subject of sexual slavery both approachable and manageable. Whereas many of my heavier books on women’s rights or international affairs sit dormant in my classroom library, Sold has made it through many hands. I believe there are multiple reasons for this: first, Sold isn’t intimidating in length or size. It feels manageable for many students. Second, Sold is written in short vignettes with wide spacing between the lines. Students can find themselves ten or twenty pages into the book with minimal effort.

Furthermore, the book lends itself to close reading and craft study. Each vignette is chock full of exceptional writing as Patricia McCormick plays with diction, descriptions, repetition, and a wide variety of craft marks. In turn, I can’t pick only one example, so bear with me as I walk you through two of the many passages with which I am obsessed:

Everyday, students walk into my classroom burdened by mammoth backpacks and equally sized worries. It’s tough to be a teenager, which is why I love the vignette “What I Carry.” I hope to use this as a quickwrite to find out what students carry with them throughout the

One of the many passages I have photocopied and dissected in my writer's notebook.

One of the many passages I have photocopied and dissected in my writer’s notebook.



Inside the bundle Ama packed for me are:

my bowl,

my hairbrush,

the notebook my teacher gave me for being the number one

girl in school,

and my bedroll.

Inside my head I carry

my baby goat,

my baby brother,

my ama’s face,

our family’s future.

My bundle is light.

My burden is heavy.

In the second passage, “Between Twilights,” I love McCormick’s use of sensory details. This is an excellent passage to model the concept of “show don’t tell” in writing.


Sometimes, between the twilights.

I unwrap my bundle from home

and bury my face in the fabric of my old skirt.

I inhale deeply,

drinking in the scent of mountain sunshine,

a warmth that smells of freshly turned soil and clean laundry

baking in the sun.

I breathe in a cool Himalayan breeze,

and the woodsy tang of a cooking fire,

a smell that crackles with the promise of warm tea

and fresh roti.

Then I can get by.

Until the next twilight.

Growing Readers

Autumn in my New Hampshire school district.

Autumn in my New Hampshire school district.

In New England, where I teach, time is measured by temperature. New Englanders cherish Indian summers (the bout of warmth before fall settles in); we sense the bite of autumn, and can smell an oncoming snow. We are a community of seasons, and ultimately these changes dictate the course and development of our year. In turn, to show the development of my classes’ reading progress throughout the year, I drew my inspiration from what New England is famous for—its foliage. To visually represent my classes reading progress within the reading workshop, I developed a reading tree.

The concept of the tree is simple: for every book read, students received a leaf. On the leaf they wrote their initials, the book they read, and the author. They would then staple the leaf to their class’ branch. In turn, students had a visual representation of their individual progress (because they put their initials on the leaves) as well as their class’ progress. They would look to the tree to see what books were the most popular/appeared on the tree most often.

The bare tree before students arrived.

The bare tree before students arrived.

The reading tree exhibits student work and promotes individual success. In addition, it also reinforces teamwork since students look to see how their class is doing as a whole. Furthermore, the tree inspires friendly competition between classes. When I first introduce the tree, I tell students that the class with the most books read wins an ice cream party at the end of the year. This year, due to increased federal health regulations on snacks during the school day, my rules have changed. Instead, students will be able to drop two of their lowest reading scores. Unlike last year, I will tally the total books per class every quarter instead of at the end of the year to determine each quarter’s winner.

Construction for the tree is relatively simple and can be used from year to year.


  • One concrete form tube sawed in half. I purchased mine from Home Depot and they sawed it in half for me
  • Two cans of brown spray paint. I used a textured spray paint similar to Rust-oleum’s multicolored textured spray paint, but you can use any type
  • A ream of brown paper—the same type you use to cover bulletin boards
  • A staple gun and staples.
  • Four packs of different colored paper for the leaves.
  • Brown or black duct tape
  • Bulletin board


  1. Spray paint the concrete form tube with the two cans of brown spray paint. This will serve as your trunk.
  2. Pull large sections of the paper of the ream and begin twisting the paper. As you twist the paper, begin stapling it to the concrete tube using the staple gun. Continue ripping off multiple pieces of paper from the ream, twist and intertwine them as you go along. This will make your trunk look three-dimensional and more realistic. Leave long ends on the bottom. Twist these to a point to create the roots of the tree.
  3. Before you get to the top of the trunk, fashion what looks like a strap. I did this by taking a piece of the brown paper and folding it to make a 2’ X 6” rectangle to wrap around the top of the trunk and affix to the wall. I reinforced the back of the piece of paper with brown duct tape. I then put this strap around the front of the trunk where the bulletin board first meets the concrete tube. I stapled the strap to the tree then the excess ends of the strap to the bulletin board to ensure that the tree wouldn’t fall over once it was complete.
  4. Finally, I continued twisting individual brown pieces of paper and then layering them by twisting multiple pieces together to create a thicker branch. Make sure to create a branch for each of your classes that will be participating.
  5. As you create the larger branches, staple them to the bulletin board. Because the paper is pliable, it is easily to manipulate to look more like a tree. Add smaller branches by twisting additional paper scraps.
  6. Cut out small leaves and store them in a jar or bag to give out to students as they finish their books. I usually have a volunteer cut them out for me so that I have a bulk amount for each quarter.
  7. Get excited to watch your tree (and readers) blossom!
    The reading tree full of leaves at the end of last year.

    The reading tree full of leaves at the end of last year.

While the tree may look complex, it does not take an extraneous amount of time to complete or teach to students. Last year, I allowed my classes to pick which branch they would like to use. Furthermore, I color coded the leaves based on the quarter. Each quarter, I would let my students pick the new leaf color. Green was the first quarter, red was second, orange was third, and yellow was fourth. Just as fall foliage shows the change of seasons in New England, the changing leaves showed my students their development and growth as readers throughout the year.




Reel Reading – The Fault in Our Stars



What?! You chose The Fault in our Stars to kick off our Reel Reading for Real Readers meme? Heather, my friend, you read my mind once again. Now, let’s share our thinking with other like-minded book-loving teachers and invite them to share along.
What:  Weekly posts of book trailers of our favorite and most student-engaging YA books.
Why:   Visual images can intrigue the most reluctant and even hostile readers.
When: Thursdays so you can find the book in preparation for showing the trailer on Fridays. (We might get some traction with weekend readers here.)
How:  We’ll post ours. You post yours, using the meme Reel Reading for Real Readers. Leave us a comment with your blog link, so others can add to their book trailer libraries.


Have you read this book? Leave us a reflection on it and a suggestion as to what we should read next.

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