Tag Archives: book titles

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

10335308I work north of Boston in that pocket of New England that keeps getting blasted with snow this season. I know I shouldn’t complain—I live in New Hampshire after all—but the snow banks have far surpassed my height, making me even more stir crazy than usual. Even now as I write, snow is lightly falling outside my window. While I will readily admit that my state looks breathtaking blanketed in white, she is getting a bit narcissistic at this point. So for those of you who need a good laugh during these dark days of winter, I highly suggest Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).

I rarely watched The Office and I’ve seen one episode of The Mindy Project, but for some reason I was drawn to this clever and quirky actress. She is relatable and down-to-earth, a self-made woman who details her rise to fame in this book. What I love most about her book though is her identification as a writer. In fact, one chapter called “How I Write,” which I share with students, is entirely devoted to her process. She writes:

I’ve found my productive-writing-to-screwing-around ratio to be one to seven. So, for every eight-hour day of writing, there is only one good productive hour of work being done. The other seven hours are preparing for writing: pacing around the house, collapsing cardboard boxes for recycling, reading the DVD extras pamphlet from the BBC Pride & Prejudice, getting snacks lined up for writing, and YouTubing toddlers who learned the “Single Ladies” dance. I know. Isn’t that horrible? (Kaling 143).

While that doesn’t mirror my own writing process exactly and it certainly isn’t a method to aspire to, I know there are days when I sit refreshing Pinterest for inspiration. I imagine our students can relate as well.

In the end, readers will have a good chuckle given Kaling’s eclectic chapters that bounce around to different topics. Her energy and humor are just enough to brighten even the snowiest of days.

The Classroom and The Cell

ClassroomCell-cover.jpg (320×512)

Yes, the title is as provocative as the text found inside the 177 pages crafted as a conversation between both activists; one serving a life sentence in Waynesburg, PA and the other an Ivy League professor sharing his knowledge with the educational elite.

If the title alone does not grab your attention, or at the very least, shed light on the dark realities of the school to prison pipeline; then find comfort in knowing that asha bandele’s fingerprints have touched this piece as well – as editor.

Abu-Jamal and Lamont Hill take on the discourse so many African Americans engage in, yet so few human beings have any insight unto – which instills a blindness to the indifference that still persists. Each chapter is dedicated to components of the African American experience that are real, raw, and in dire need of attention.

In bringing necessary awareness to the issues, concerns, and realities found within this piece, take a look at Marc Lamont Hill on the creation of The Classroom and The Cell.

Here’s an excerpt found within the first few pages: (Please note, due to the nature of the content, some chosen words are a bit colorful, yet essential.)

Mumia: When you talk about your lack of freedom, you’re talking about the golden chains that are on you.  They’re pretty as a [expletive], but they’re still chains.  I think it’s interesting that our people, of all the people in the world, chose chains as a fashion accessory.

Marc: Crazy right?  And we call our cars “whips!”

Mumia:  Damn! Whips and chains.  That ain’t a Freudian slip.  Ain’t no such thing!  We’re not even free in our language.  You dig what I’m saying?

This excerpt sets the tone for the entire piece; it’s no wonder that I have felt compelled and propelled to research both men in greater detail.  This is also the excerpt I read aloud to students when they ask what I’m reading.  And every time, without skipping a beat, students are viscerally moved by it.  They ask to sign it out; immediately.  Some students are so enamored by the text, craft, and connection that they find an urge to read other books also authored by these men.  Innately what happens next is stunning – author studies are being explored and students’ identities are being validated.

What titles do you and your students collectively enjoy that provide opportunities  for understanding cultural ideologies while fostering honest dialogue?

Craft Study–The Glass Castle

51iqte2Ed-L    At the beginning of The Glass Castle is a brief four-paragraph acknowledgment, the type of side note readers skip over to get to the story. The last line reads, “I can never adequately thank my husband, John Taylor, who persuaded me it was time to tell my story and then pulled it out of me.” The line is sentimental and sweet, but to me, a teacher, it speaks volumes. The idea of unfurling a sordid past like Jeanette Walls’ elevates this book from a simple autobiography to an outright journey, the same journey our students undergo as they explore their own stories.

In turn, every year, I book talk The Glass Castle, a book that sends my students on a roller coaster of emotion. In my upper level Advanced Composition course, I use the first chapter in “Part II: The Desert” as a mentor text since it begins with a brilliant snapshot in time which both startles and intrigues my students:

“I was on fire.

It’s my earliest memory. I was three years old, and we were living in a trailer park in a southern Arizona town whose name I never knew. I was standing on a chair in front of the stove, wearing a pink dress my grandmother had bought for me. Pink was my favorite color. The dress’s skirt stuck out like a tutu, and I liked to spin around in front of the mirror, thinking I looked like a ballerina. But at that moment, I was wearing the dress to cook hot dogs, watching them swell and bob in the boiling water as the late-morning sunlight filtered in through the trailer’s small kitchenette window” (Walls 9).


The opening line is brilliant: “I was on fire.” It quickly ropes in my students as they are caught by the innocent voice of the next few lines: “It’s my earliest memory. I was three years old…” The interjections of childlike wonder make this passage even more haunting as students go on to learn that Jeannette’s beautiful tutu catches on fire and lands her in the emergency room with third-degree burns.

The chapter, which is six pages long, includes a plethora of craft marks that get students thinking about opening sentences, sensory details, one-sentence paragraphs, and the manipulation of time. The chapter can easily be broken down into shorter snapshot segments, which I have students dissect and analyze within smaller groups. These small discussions culminate in a larger whole class discussion that has students drawing out examples from the text to support their readings and interpretation. The best part though is after reading this mentor text most students are hooked. In turn, The Glass Castle becomes one of the most sought after books in my classroom library.


A Book About Food?

IMG_20141216_210906You better believe that when Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey collide (behind the big screen) an emulsion of magic erupts.  The One Hundred Foot Journey written by Richard C. Morais turned film was two hours and four minutes of robust richness, immaculate vastness, and intense human connection.  So, no…this book is not solely about food.  Although food, most of the time, tends to be the main character.  I love when authors and film makers do that!

Immediately following my trip to the theatre, was (obviously!) a trip to the bookstore.  Yes, at 9 p.m.  I wasn’t worried about the bookstore not being open but I hadn’t even thought to think that they would be out of the book.  I should have!

An immediate login to Amazon.com and my book was on its way — to be delivered a quick two days later (Thank you, Amazon Prime).  And it wasn’t long into the book when I came across this:

But this you must know:  the violent murder of a mother – when a boy is at that tender age, when he isIMG_20141216_205952 just discovering girls – it is a terrible thing.  Confusingly mixed up with all things feminine, it leaves a charred residue on the soul, like the black marks found at the bottom of a burned pot.  No matter how much you scrub and scrub the pot bottom with steel wool and cleansers, the scars, they remain permanent.

Did anyone else just witness the intense power of Morais’s carefully chosen craft?  Imagery, word
choice, symbolism…shall I continue?  When students ask me what I’m reading or why I’m even reading it; I turn to this page and let them read it for themselves…it’s already tagged.  Most times students’ responses start with a sigh followed by a “Wow” or “Whoa”.  Then the conversation begins.  And, just like what Spielberg and Winfrey have created, our conversations chronicle the richness of this sentiment, immaculate precision and craft of Morais, and the intensity of this reality.

What books have you stumbled upon that have hidden gems in them that you love to share with your students?

An Important Invitation


“WHAT THE [insert expletive]?!”

I do not move.

“NO WAY!  I can’t believe it!  How the [insert expletive #2]?!  Miss Bogdany, come here!”

I’ve been invited.

As I slowly walk toward Christian, both legs extended and perched atop his desk; he need not move. His eyes are bulging.  Is his look one of momentary panic?  Complete disbelief?  A moment of sadness? Regardless, the look on his face is all the body language needed to understand; this young man has just experienced the beauty of literature.  (Although I bet he would beg to differ that ‘beauty’ may not be the appropriate word choice.)


This year has been remarkably challenging in ways that I have had yet to experience.

All gritty yet beautiful.

After three and a half months of trying to persuade…breathing (deeply!) through rejected book recommendations…buckling up for the daily roller coaster ride of never really knowing what opinion will be formed about reading that particular day; this invitation could not have come packaged anymore suiting.

While there have been constant shifts, differentiated activities, mentor texts, book talks (on countless genres), writing topics, unsuccessful attempts at captivating student interest…(we all know how long the list gets); one thing has remained constant.  I committed, at the very beginning of the year, that no matter how many changes are made to our learning community, the Reading Writing Workshop goes nowhere!  Student choice has remained constant…and thank goodness it has because the expletives, the lounging student…this is exactly how today’s position on reading needs to be explored; gritty yet beautiful.


As ChrisIMG_20141215_175627tian holds tight to Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper (a popular read among students and the first book in the Hazelwood High trilogy), he points to this passage and invisibly underlines each word as he flies through the paragraph that starts “There’s nobody home – 

He then pauses.   His finger moves to the last line, lingers there as he looks up at me, and continues…”I’m sorry for all I’ve done – so sorry, …so very, very sor-

“Ms. Bogdany, did you SEE that?!  He kills himself!  He doesn’t even finish his sentence!”

I am most definitely taken aback.  First by Christian’s intense grasp on the craft of the writer and secondly by the wild intensity of a young man taking his own life.  My eyes bulge too.

Then Christian continues.  Again, his finger leading the way…


“Suicide!  This is the police report.  He killed himself.”

We both pause.  The weight of the word.  We both feel it.

“Ms. Bogdany, I just can’t believe it.  I knew it on the page before, but here it’s confirmed.  I had no idea this would happen.”


Christian has chosen many-a-piece that deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and this piece is no different.  Here you have the main character who deals with survivor’s guilt after accidentally killing his best friend in a car accident.  You can only imagine how difficult life, for Andy Jackson, must be.  While attempting to ask for help throughout the piece, Andy feels as though he is alone.  Very alone.

This piece chronicle’s Andy’s journey and the fatality in which it brings.  Please note that students may want (and actually need) to talk about their feelings regarding this heavy issue.  Christian did, albeit the way in which he initially hinted.  Through the expletives I realized that Christian couldn’t be silent about the tragedy he just witnessed.  He needed to voice (in whatever way that surfaced) his knee-jerk reaction to the shock of Andy’s decision.

This piece has connected Christian and I.  It has given us the opportunity to chronicle his study on PTSD…and the real consequences that are associated with it.  He was able to walk me  through the craft of Sharon M. Draper.  This book will remain important for Christian for very specific reasons as it may very well be the piece that is forever etched in his mind.  This piece will also remain incredibly important for me, but for very different reasons.  Regardless of the reason, we are both grateful to Ms. Draper for her dedication to addressing real issues that touch the lives of our youth.

Building My Library Around My Students

My first time at NCTE, I played supermarket sweep alongside the other teachers. I didn’t have one of those grandma-rolling-carts to gather my goods in, but the victory was still sweet as I tossed book after book into my free bags. But lo and behold, as I returned home with my goods, I realized that some of the books were middle grade, a tad too young looking to impress my high schoolers, while others were sequels to books I didn’t own. My humble pile was quickly halved as I weeded out and gave away the books that just wouldn’t fit into my classroom library.

This year I took a different approach; I arrived at NCTE with certain students and issues in mind. Suddenly my mission to collect free and heavily discounted books turned into a mission to fill the holes in my classroom library. This not only narrowed my search but also made it easier to discuss potential titles with booksellers. The following are some of the gems I scored at NCTE 2014:

What I needed…Books that help students cope with a friend’s suicide

20726924Sadly, suicide is a tragedy that has touched my school a few times over the past few years. I am reminded of this at the beginning of every year when I receive personal narratives relaying the stories of students’ past friends or relatives. The wounds are deep and raw and fresh, which is why my students need literature to help them cope with such atrocities. This year, I left NCTE with two books that filled this niche: Rumble by Ellen Hopkins and The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand. I have a growing group of Ellen Hopkins devotees who bask in the poetic prose of her books as well as the gritty subjects. Rumble attacks heavy issues through the story of Matt Turner, whose younger brother commits suicide 17285330after being bullied for being gay. The Last Time We Say Goodbye, which is due for publication in February 2015, tackles similar themes, only in this book, the female protagonist Lex loses her brother. Lex struggles to cope with her brother’s death and can’t let go of a text message she received from her brother the night he died.

This is unfortunately a topic that will continue to ripple through and impact my students as I receive students who are impacted by the deaths of friends and family members they have lost to suicide. There are no answers to such a devastating event, but I do hope that these books will help show students that they are not alone.

What I needed…Books that are low level but high interest

I fervently believe that students need a dose of success to give into reading. Too often my students 8011arrive turned off to reading simply because they haven’t been exposed to books that interest them. Furthermore, the students who are most resistant tend to be those who are not proficient or only partially proficient in reading and can’t seem to find books that are at a lower reading level yet a high interest level for their age group. My greatest find was a small bookstall towards the back of the convention room that included books from the Sidestreets and Real Justice Series. These books involve gritty stories with heavy hitting topics such as drug abuse, mental health issues, and social problems. While the books I received were between third to fifth grade reading levels, the sepia and black and white photo covers leant a more mature tone to the story—a strong selling point for low level, reluctant readers. I walked away with Jailed for Life for Being Black by Bill Swan, Blow by Jodi Lundgren, and Off Limits by Robert Rayner, all books I’m looking forward to introducing to my reluctant readers.

What I needed…Books that discuss LGBTQ Issues

openlystraight_cvThis is the first year I have had openly gay students who have written either personal narratives or stories about homosexual relationships. The more I read their papers, the more I began to evaluate what sorts of LGBTQ mentor texts I had available. While I had a modest collection of book including Shine by Lauren Myracle, Everyday by David Levithan, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, I needed more. That’s when I stumbled upon Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg in which Rafe, an openly gay teenager, transfers to a New England boarding school where he decides to keep his sexuality a secret. A funny read, this book forces Rafe to question who he is and what it means to fit in. 10015384In a similar vein, I also procured an advanced reader’s copy of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens by Becky Albertalli, which is due for publication in April 2015. This book follows 16-year-old Simon who is not openly gay. Simon is blackmailed after one of his flirty e-mails to a boy he has been talking with falls into the wrong hands. These books diversify my library and address issues that many of my students are both facing and writing about.

These are only a few samples from the stacks of books I received, but as I returned to the classroom on Monday, I told all my students about the exciting run-ins I had with famous authors like James Dashner and David Levithan and Ally Condie. I spoke with the students I had “shopped” for, letting them know what books I had bought and how I had them in mind when I purchased them. While I hope the books leave an indelible mark on my students, I know that ultimately my students leave an indelible mark on the growth and construction of my library.

What books did you bring home from NCTE? Are there any holes that need filling in your classroom library? What might you be searching for?

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.

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