Tag Archives: books

A #FridayReads Come back

How could I forget?

I just remembered I used to celebrate #FridayReads with my students. Every week, after independent reading time, we’d talk about our books, maybe tweet a selfie with them, maybe imitate a favorite sentence. It was probably a Friday when we wrote book reviews in the form of haikus. It was a Friday when we became literary critics. That one was epic.

This year we’ve been having Friday discussions. Reading, talking, listening. That’s worked well — we’ve explored many interesting and important issues — but I completely forgot about doing more with our books. Dang it.

No wonder my students are not reading as much as they have in the past.

I won’t play the What/If game, but it’s staring at me in with weary eyes.

This morning I read about the 2019 National Book Award winners, and while I haven’t read any of them, yet; I gulped at the beauty of these lines, shared by one of the winners as she spoke of her mother–

“As a child, I watched her every move, seeing her eyes fall upon every word everywhere — encountered in the grocery store, on a bus, pamphlets, the package labels, my high school textbooks. She was always wolfing down words, insatiable — which is how I learned the ways in which words were a kind of sustenance, could be a beautiful relief or a greatest assault.”

Words. A beautiful relief or a greatest assault.

On this Friday, I think we will start here. We’ll write in response to this idea:  How are words both a relief or an assault?

Then, we’ll explore books — in anticipation, and hope, that just maybe one of my readers will fall in love with words.

 

Amy Rasmussen teaches senior English in a large high school in North Texas. She’s still working on building her classroom library to its former glory, and knows she needs to read more herself if she wants to get every student into a book they will love. Follow her on Twitter @amyrass

3TT Talks Gifts: What books will you give this season?

If you know me, you know I live by lists. I make them. I collect them. Sometimes I even stick to them. I raised seven children, you know. I had to keep track of who needed to go here, there, and everywhere and who needed what and what and what just to survive and thrive in our robust and rowdy family. Christmas shopping, often on a bone of a budget, gave me hives.

Gift-giving has never been my strong suit. Perhaps my practicality, and my history of stretching dimes into dollars, gets in the way of thoughtfulness. (Not even kidding, my kids got socks and underwear wrapped in cute paper. To their credit, they never complained–at least not to me.) I know it is possible to be both practical and thoughtful, but I am still working on that balance.

So what does any of that have to do with a blog about teaching readers and writers? Not a lot — except, I asked my fellow writers to help me craft a list for literacy teachers. Maybe you’ll find something to gift yourself, a colleague, a friend, or a perfect stranger. (I like the idea of gift-wrapping a book and giving it to one of the Salvation Army bell-ringing volunteers and saying, “This is for you.”)

Part 1 of this literacy teachers’ list is below. I’ll post about professional books, and favorite writer’s notebooks, pens, and other clever things for literacy lovers over the next few days.

BOOKS. What are the top titles students love in your classroom library right now? (Remember, we work with a range of readers from middle grades to AP Lit. There’s old and new, non-fiction, YA, and just some really good recommendations here, in no particular order, that would make great gifts for any reader or want-to-be reader or you-want-them-to-be a reader in your life. )

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Long Way Down Track Series (Ghost, Patina, Sunny, Lu) by Jason Reynolds
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Hate You Give  by Angie Thomas
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Graphic novels (Ghosts, Smile, Babysitters… by Raina Telgemeier
Love that Dog/Hate that Cat/Moo by Sharon Creech
The 57 Bus:  A True Story of Two Teens and a Crime that Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater
Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

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Just Mercy  by Bryan Stevenson & the version adapted for YA
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood & the graphic novel version by Nan A. Talise
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Ghost Boys By Jewell Parker Rhodes
The CrossoverBooked & Rebound by Kwame Alexander
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
The Greatest Stories Never Told:  100 Tales from History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stupefy by Rick Beyer

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir & the whole trilogy
Looking for AlaskaTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
My Bloody Life: The Making of a Latin King by Reymundo Sanchez
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

NOTE: Get this book free with a donation to Book Love Foundation

We Should Hang Out Sometime:  Embarrassingly, a True Story & Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist
I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
Because I was a Girl:  Trues Stories for Girls of All Ages by Melissa de la Cruz

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Martian by Andy Weir
1984 by George Orwell
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women by Charleyboy (editor)
All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

For more book-gifting ideas, check out the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2018; 15 Life-Changing Middle-grade Books; and here’s the School Library Journal list of best children and YA audiobooks of 2018.

What’s Your Book?

I spent most of Monday trying to organize my books. It’s a bigger deal than it sounds. I love books. My husband loves books. Together we have a massive book-loving marriage. And a problem:  Room.

Recently, we moved across town into a space that is just a tad bigger than the one room apartment we lived in as newlyweds almost 33 years ago. So, today we’ve sorted, remembered, donated, and pledged.

“I read more when the books are our in front of me,” my husband said as he put his favorite sales and marketing books on the shelf. “These are the ones I read again and again.”

“I think you should read this book,” he said, showing me Paradigms. “It’s a fundamental

Toberead

Just one of my to-read-next towers. I’ve also got the AP Lit and Book Love Summer Book Club towers.

book for anyone who is an innovator.”

It’s now atop my to-read-next tower.

“What’s the one book that hooked you as a kid?” he asked as I tried (and failed) to narrow my children’s book collection.

Anne of Green Gables. Easy. ” I said, “Yours?”

My Side of the Mountain.”

Most readers know that one book.

And isn’t it a treat that by definition of our jobs we get to help kids find their books — the ones they want to read, the ones that helps them fall in love with reading — if they haven’t fallen yet?

Today, I’d like to ask you:  “What is your book, the book that made you want to read?”

Our books

Amy Rasmussen lives and works in North Texas. Her classroom library is home to books, books, and more books — all selected to help inspire a love of reading in every single student. Btw, she and her husband have had numerous conversations about the books that made them readers. It was pretty much a first date prerequisite.

What do colors have to do with teachers writing? Today, a lot.

When I read You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie, I knew I’d found mentor gold. Infused with stirring poetry, this memoir tells the story of Alexie’s less than ideal relationship with his mother and how he grieves the loss of her, what was, and what could have been.

I reached for this book Monday as I began a session of PD. On a whim, I flipped the pages and landed on the poem, “Ode to Gray,” thinking it may spark some kind of response in my audience. It’s simple enough. And lovely.

Ode to Gray

This isn’t the complete poem. I just wanted you to get the idea. There’s one more stanza. Really, get this book.

After I read the the poem aloud, I asked listening teachers to write in response.

“Think of a color, and write about that. Write your own poem, or a paragraph. Doesn’t matter. Just write about your color.”

After writing five minutes, which is rarely long enough, I asked these writers to read over their words and do a bit of revision, challenging them to add an appositive phrase somewhere in their writing. This is a directive I often use with students:  We write. We read our work. We revise, often with a singular purpose that ties to a specific skill or craft move.

I walked the room, peeking over shoulders, listening to conversations — and noticed about a third of the group didn’t write a thing. Funny how some teachers are so much like some students, huh?

Maybe they didn’t get the simple task. I guess that makes sense if they’ve never been asked to write like this. I do not think that’s the case though. I heard one too many sigh and saw one too many eye roll to know I wasn’t the first presenter to ask this group to think and write.

It didn’t matter. We cannot make people eat. We can keep inviting them to the table.

Writing teachers should be willing to write.

Accountability in RWWorkshop

Some teachers in that session wrote a lot — and they wrote beautifully. Adam showed me his piece about the color black. I should have asked for a copy. All I remember is the line “Little black lies.” It’s a great line.

Of all I wrote, one line holds a bit of promise:  “Orange, the color of sunsets, why are you so lonely?”

And then there’s Mary. She took that little quickwrite and turned it into something tender, touching, real. She published it on Facebook and said I could share it here:

An Ode to Red
Workshopping With Amy Rasmussen
1.15.18
Red is the fire of your cheeks as you demand to be heard in the morning before school, on a day I was supposed to get to sleep in late. Red is the fire of mine as I scream back, frustrated, unsure of how to solve this trembling toddler enigma. You want red grapes, I gave you purple. In your mind, they are not the same.
“What’s your favorite color, Mommy?” you ask. You expect an answer.
“Purple,” I say, knowing the question that comes next. We do this daily dance, aware of each other’s rhythm.
“And what else?” you ask.
“And orange.”
“That’s good, Mommy. Mine’s red. Red and blue. I love red and blue.”
Red is the sucker, no, the second sucker you negotiate for after getting your hair cut. Just one of the many tricks/bribes that I’ve learned along this short parenting trip we’re on together. Sticky, stained red lips, sticky, stained red teeth and sticky, stained red fingers.
“Go wash your hands before you hug me!” I yell as we walk in the house. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”
Red is the color of the bath water after you dump the entire bottle of finger paint into the tub.
“Bubble bath!” you shriek excitedly, giggling, red steaks strung along the sides of the just-washed tub.
Red is my heart each time I leave, and each time I return. Red is the love. All of the love, engulfing me in flames.


I see red a bit differently today.

Thank you, Mary. My kids are grown, and now I get to watch them practice parenting. It’s hard and noble work, and you will feel every color of emotion — sometimes all on the same day and sometimes more than once. But it’s that “love. All the love” that turn these emotions into rainbows. And sometimes just writing about them helps us see every moment just a bit more clearly. Thank you.

In an article by Tim Gillespie, published on the National Writing Project website, he sums up what I believe and have experienced myself as a teacher writer.

Accountability in RWWorkshop (1)

Here’s the thing, you teachers who refused to even try:  It doesn’t matter if you think you can write. Just write.

What does matter is that our students see us working at it. Just like we must be readers in order to help our students find the “just right” book, we must be writers if we want to know the struggle our students face when writing.

We learn when we are vulnerable. We learn when we practice.

So I am challenging myself as much as I am challenging you:  Write beside your students more. Let them see your thoughts, your mistakes, your struggles. Ask them for feedback.

If I truly want a community, where we all work to grow as readers and writers, I need to do more to get us there.

Amy Rasmussen began writing in journals at age 8. In addition to this blog, she now writes in notebooks and on sticky notes. A lot of sticky notes. She also tries to write the assignments she gives her students. She wishes she would have had teachers who wrote with her, but she does not remember one K-12 teacher ever doing so. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk

I Have a Newborn…and So Much Time to Read YA!

Karnes November 2017 (20 of 23)

Jane Elizabeth arrived on November 13! (See how much she sleeps?!

Ahhh, the second kid. The kid where you can take advantage of just how much a newborn sleeps, just how much free time your maternity leave affords you, and just how tired you can be. Way too tired to create anything sensible (sorry, NaNoWriMo), but definitely not too tired to consume something interesting.

Enter young adult literature.

(Well, re-enter, actually.)

I left the high school classroom about a year and a half ago, and since then I’ve only read a few YA novels. My purpose for reading YA used to be to inform my students about the latest and greatest in high-interest lit, but now it’s shifted. I’m as distracted as any perpetually tired, academically overwhelmed, hormonally imbalanced teenager, so now I’m the perfect audience for all the best YA.

Here are a few of my recent late-night, early-morning, even-while-in-the-hospital YA reads that I think you and your students will love, too!

30653853The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli – I so loved this book. I enjoyed everything about it asI read it in chunks at 2 am while feeding the baby. I loved the narrator’s voice, the hilarity of the supporting characters (whose ethnic, sexual, and gender “diversity” weren’t the main points of the story, but just a normal part of the fabric of the narrative, which I really appreciated), and the writing itself. If you or your students enjoyed the twins in Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun, the frank discussion of body image in Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’, or the awkwardness of Colin in John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines, definitely give this one a try.

51nDUibFLjL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – I chose this one strictly based on cover appeal–because it’s really a gorgeous cover–and ended up reading it throughout labor, finishing the last 20 pages a few hours after Jane was born. I was sucked in immediately by the plight of Alex, who’s seventeen and schizophrenic and never quite sure what’s real or made up in her everyday life. Every character, object, or experience had my skepticism as I read, and my wariness was heightened as I grew more and more attached to each development, worrying that it’d turn out to be fake. There are twists and turns worthy of Gone Girl in this book, but ultimately, it’s a fantastic YA read that’s more coming-of-age than suspense or mystery genre.

John_Green_Turtles_All_The_Way_Down_Book_CoverTurtles All the Way Down by John Green – Have you read this book yet? If you haven’t, is it at least pretty high on your TBR list? If it isn’t, have you been living under a rock!? John Green’s newest book–and his first release since The Fault in Our Stars–did not disappoint me. I purposely avoided reading anything about the book before I got my hands on it, and I was glad that I hadn’t been spoiled by spoilers. Its plot is driven by a typically slightly unbelievable Green-esque set of characters, circumstances, and adventures, but I’m always willing to suspend my disbelief for the likes of John Green, so I was undeterred. I quickly empathized with narrator Aza, who struggles with OCD, and appreciated Green’s sensitive exploration of mental health in the teen landscape.

61d6DhRCBSL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Jackie told me about this book years ago, and I’ve been meaning to read it ever since–and it was worth the wait. A true YA classic, it blends a dystopian reality with the sinister machinations of a true supervillain (in this case, an entire corporation) and unlikely heroes and plot twists throughout. If you like The Matrix, the 80s, video games, or any of the above, you’ll like this book. It’s a great piece of fiction, and I appreciated Cline’s restraint in not turning it into a trilogy or series. I loved it as a stand-alone book full of everything I like in a page-turner.

32930819The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn – This isn’t YA, but it’ll definitely be of interest to any of my fellow Jane Austen lovers out there (and if you are one, then you’ll notice my aptly-named newborn daughter, above). In the not-too-distant future, time travel is a reality and true Austen fangirl Dr. Rachel Katzman has been selected to visit 1815 and Jane herself. Her mission is to retrieve a lost Austen manuscript, diagnose the mysterious illness that ended Jane’s life far too early, and try not to alter history too drastically along the way. I loved this book for its historical accuracy, its constant allusions to Jane’s works, and the depth of emotion I felt from every character.

And, because all good readers have a plan, here’s what’s next on my library holds list:

  • Refugee by Alan Gratz
  • Artemis by Andy Weir
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • What She Ate by Laura Shapiro

What do you recommend for my next high-interest read? Please comment with some titles that will keep me awake through late-night feedings, a teething toddler, and my exhausted 8:00 bedtime!

Shana Karnes is now mom to TWO beautiful baby girls–Ruth and Jane–wife to a very patient husband, and teacher of thoughtful preservice educators at West Virginia University. She’s enjoying new mom-of-two life and surviving it thanks to the twin distractions of reading her students’ work and reading YA lit. Find Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

3 Ideas for Better Book Talks

I should have written this post yesterday. Yesterday was 9/11, and I always try to incorporate some lesson about the events, emotions, and effects of that day into whatever our focus is in class. It’s important we always remember.

My students are juniors and seniors. 9/11 is history to them, and few of my students like to read historical fiction. They choose YA off of my “Teen Angst,” “There Might Be Kissing,” and “You Just Can’t Get Over It” shelves most often. (I suppose most of the books I book talked today fit in that last category though. I’ll be moving a few later.)

Without really meaning to, I shared three books with students on Monday in three different ways. Thus, the idea for this post on engaging students in reading by mixing up our book talks.

  1. Read a poignant, exciting, or particularly intriguing passage from a book.

Over the weekend, I read The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner. I found this a touching story about love and loss and resilience — all topics my students can relate to. What does it mean to be responsible? How do we fight our fears and struggle through the tragedies that terrify us?

In my book talk, I spoke about the characters in the book:  a young man trying to prove his worth to his dad, and a young woman who we learn is in conflict with hers — both struggling with the realities in NYC on the tragic Tuesday of 9/11.

I read the first few paragraphs aloud:

“I move with the crowd, away from downtown Manhattan.

We travel swiftly but don’t run, panicked but steady, a molten lava flow of bodies across the bridge.

A crash of thunder erupts–another explosion?–and the flow startles and quickens. Someone near me starts to cry, a choked, gasping sound, soon muted by a new wail of sirens rising at my back.

I stop and turn, stare frozen. People rush past me:  faces twisted with shock and fear, mouths held open in O’s, others only eyes where their noses and mouths have been covered with knotted sleeves against the toxic, burning reek.

I search fro Kristen or Kelly, or Mr. Bell, but I lost them all as soon as we got to the bridge.

I don’t see anyone I know from school.

I don’t see anyone I know.

I press my sleeve to my nose– Don’t think, Kyle, just move!–but feel stuck gaping at the place where the city has vanished beyond the thick brown wall of smoke.

Two planes have hit, one building is down, and my dad is in their somewhere.”

There’s a lesson in imagery in there I may return to sometime. We are writing narratives right now, so I bookmarked this for later. For now, it’s a good teaser and an effective book talk.

2. Show a movie trailer — but play up on how the book is always better.

My students love videos. They admit to spending their entire lives on YouTube, so any chance I get to show a video clip I take.

If you’ve read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, maybe you feel like I do about the movie:  I loved it, but the book just gives us so much more detail, description, characters, and craft to love. Oh, how I love the craft in this book by Jonathan Safron Foer.

For my book talk, I first flipped through the book, showing student how Foer plays with white space, page markings, and photo essays — all which play into how he develops the plot and constructs meaning. I talked about the parallel plot line and how the movie makers diminish, change even, the important second storyline. I explained how this book taught me more about author’s craft than anything I’ve ever read. Then, I showed the movie trailer.

(Book trailers work as effective book talks, too. You’ll find a bunch here and here and here. We even have a few ideas about book trailers in our archives on this blog.)

  1. Use a passage as a quick write prompt or as a craft study. 

Have you read The Red Bandanna: A Life, a Choice, A Legacy by Tom Rinaldi? Just a few pages in, and your heart will swell.

As I read the books I know I will share with my readers, I mark passages that make me think and feel. Important moves for any reader. I model these moves as I share books and writing ideas with my students. This passage from The Red Bandanna tears me to shreds every time.

The Red Bandana

In my senior English classes, I talked about the heroics of Welles Crowther, the main character in the book, and then students wrote in response to the questions:  What do you carry, what truth could it possibly contain? What meaning could it hold?

In my AP Language class, we talked in our groups about the word choice, the interesting syntax, the tone, and then students wrote their answers to those questions, trying to imitate the writer’s rhythm and descriptive language.

In all my classes, we talked about 9/11, our thoughts, our feelings, and why they matter to the lives we live now. We made connections to texts and to one another as we shared our thinking and our writing. That to me is an added bonus of an effective book talk.

I know my students will read more the more I talk about books. I am the salesperson, and they are the often skeptical customer. I’ve learned that mixing up how I talk about books matters.

And getting students interested in reading pretty much anything these days matters most of all.

Do you have ideas on mixing up our book talks? Please leave your ideas in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen loves to read, watch movies with her husband, and tickle her five grandchildren. She’s in the market for a lake house and likes to shop thrift stores for books and bargain furniture. Someday she’ll be disciplined enough to write a book about teaching. For now, she teaches senior English and AP Lang and Comp at her favorite high school in North TX. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass, and please, go ahead and follow this blog.

Book Birthdays by Amy Estersohn

img_20161006_115756265Tuesdays are bar none the best day of the week.  Tuesdays are when most new books are released.  On Tuesdays, you can run to the bookstore, go to the library, or wait eagerly for a package to arrive.  If you love reading new books, Tuesdays are nothing short of wonderful.

I have a Book Birthdays list in my room to help my readers and I track upcoming and highly anticipated new releases.  I use chalk ink (more on how much I love chalk ink another time) and a section of my blackboard for this list.  Though I don’t spend much, if any, class time talking about books that are on the list, I sure get a lot of questions, requests, and (occasionally) demands from readers as to which birthdays we should be celebrating.  

I also update this list about twice a month.  For example, I booted off the second book in Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series after its October 4 release date in order to make more room for the social media thrillers of Sarah Darer Littman and Stuart Gibbs’s goofy mysteries.

Creating a customized list of upcoming releases can seem like a daunting task, but with the right tools it’s easy enough to build and maintain over time.

Step 0.  Gather a list of authors that your students already enjoy reading.  Sprinkle that list with authors you hope your readers will discover.    My readers come in knowing and loving Margaret Peterson Haddix, Rick Riordan, Raina Telgemeier, and Jeff Kinney.  By the end of the year I also want them to read Jason Reynolds, Gary Schmidt, Marie Lu, Renee Watson, Pam Munoz Ryan, Gordon Korman, and Jennifer Nielsen, among others.

Step 1.  Create a Goodreads.com account.

Step 2. Visit these authors’ pages on Goodreads to “follow” the author.

Step 3. Go to your “account settings” under your avatar and click on “e-mails.”  If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you’ll notice an opt-in settings for New Releases e-mails and e-mails from authors you follow.

Step 4. Wait for e-mail notifications to come to you.

Depending on the age and independence of your students, you may even consider opening up this task and invite students to help build a list of highly anticipated books.  

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in Westchester County, NY.   She also reviews comic books for http://www.noflyingnotights.com.   Follow her on Twitter at @HMX_MSE.

Three Good “Ninja” Books About Children of Alcoholic Parents by Amy Estersohn

downloadI’m always on the lookout for ninja books – the kinds of books that address tough issues directly, but are also swift and subtle in how they go about doing it.  These are books that have middle school-appropriate characters, plot points, and pacing with some high school-ish themes.  See also: author Kerry O’Malley Cerra’s #mggetsreal campaign.

Without further ado… here are three terrific ninja books about children of alcoholic parents:

Shug by Jenny Han

Shug (nickname for Sugar) is stuck between being a child and being a teen, and she’s in the unfortunate situation of having a huge-o crush on her male best friend, Mark.  While Shug is primarily an optimistic if awkward tween relationship novel, astute readers will pick up on Shug’s mother’s social withdrawal and her tendency to rely on wine to solve problems.  This novel reminds us that chemical dependency can affect anybody without regard to class or gender.

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall

This book is about a boy named Arthur Owens who throws a brick at an old man’s head, nearly killing an old man. Whenever I booktalk this book, there’s always a reader who says, “Surely it was an accident that Arthur threw the brick.”

To which I smile and say, “No, Arthur really meant to throw that brick.”

The Seventh Most Important Thing just might be my favorite book ever, if I really had to choose a favorite book.  It’s a book that transformed me; it’s also transformed some of the readers I’ve worked with, readers who have never felt compelled by any particular text until THIS ONE.  (Note that this book isn’t some magic cure-all, as some of my readers find it a little too character-driven and not cliffhangery enough.  But still.  This book.)  

I won’t give too much else away here, but I will say that Arthur’s father did his best to be a good dad to his children despite a struggle with alcohol.

This Side of Home by Renée Watson

Watson has written a book I can only describe as a gentrification romance.  Twins Maya (named after Maya Angelou) and Nikki (named after Nikki Giovanni) are watching their Northeast Portland neighborhood change before their eyes.  It’s becoming more white, the stores are changing, and their neighbor and best friend Essence’s landlord has started remodeling the bathroom and kitchen … before raising the rent on their apartment.   Maya wants to go to Spelman with Essence, while Essence isn’t sure she’ll be able to leave Portland and her alcoholic mother, who constantly needs her help.

Each of these three books gives a different lens into how different characters may cope with an alcoholic parent, and each of these titles could appeal to younger and older teens.

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in Westchester County, NY.   She also reviews comic books for http://www.noflyingnotights.com.   Follow her on Twitter at @HMX_MSE.

Top Books for Reluctant High School Readers

return and talkThis summer, we’d like to return and talk about some of our most useful, engaging, or popular posts.  Today’s post, written by Jackie in 2015, shows us some great possibilities for back-to-school booktalks.

Please return to this topic and talk with us in the comments–what are some hot titles you’ll booktalk as we return to school this year?


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?

Mini-Lesson Monday: First and Last Lines

In the spirit of all the books we’re giving away (winners announced tonight!), today’s mini-lesson is one of my favorites to do with independent reading books.  It celebrates the beauty and power of language, no matter the text–poetry, nonfiction, YA, award-winners, graphic novels, and more.  It also celebrates the pure joy of discovery; the launch into a new world attained only by opening to the first page of a new book.

Objectives:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will identify patterns in opening and closing lines of texts, synthesize their noticings, and draw conclusions about a text’s craft and structure.

primcacyLesson:  “Have y’all learned about the concepts of primacy and recency in psychology yet?  Who can refresh us?”

A student reminds us that the concept says that the first and last items in a series are easier and more likely to be committed to memory.

“Well, this concept isn’t just for psychology.  It applies to books too.  The first and last lines of books are the most powerful, and the most likely to stick with us.  Let’s talk in our table groups about why the first and last lines are so powerful.”

I wander the room for three minutes as students discuss, in groups of 3-4, these concepts.  They conclude that the first line often sets the tone, introduces a new world, or hooks the reader with some mystique.  The last line, they say, helps keep the reader wondering, or solves a lingering mystery, or even makes you cry.

I write these conclusions on the board, or elicit them from groups if necessary, so that we’re all on the same page.

“Okay, let’s take a look at some of our current reads and see how they can grab our attention.  Open up your independent reading book and read the first line again, and then read the very last line, too.”  (There’s always some anxiety about this, but I reassure them that last lines rarely contain plot giveaways.)

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(OMG, have you read this? It exploded in popularity the last few weeks of this school year. Read it!)

I ask a few students to give me examples:

  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children begins with “I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen,” and ends with, “We rowed faster.”  
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany opens with “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meaney,” and ends with, “I shall keep asking you.”
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August begins with “The second cataclysm began in my eleventh life, in 1996,” and concludes, “Instead, for those few days you have left, you are mortal at last.”
  • Room opens with “Today I’m five,” and ends with “Then we go out the door.”

I ask students to write for a few minutes about all that they can learn from the first and last lines, based on what they already know of the text from reading.  This is key–the lesson is much different than a simple craft study of a text they’re not already invested in, because they’re bringing lots more prior knowledge to their text analysis.

7937843I quickly model with Room, whose plot is simply explained and well known from a recent booktalk.  “I notice the sentence structure first–both lines are short, simple sentences.  Then I get a sense of the narrator’s voice, as he is obviously five years old, and that shapes how I’m going to view the text.  I also know that while they start out trapped in Room, they manage to escape somehow, either literally or figuratively, because of the last line.  I’m intrigued by all of these things, and it sets me up for what sounds like a pretty good read.”  As I talk, I note on the board the kinds of things I’m noticing–craft, tone, characterization, theme, plot, sentence structure.

Students write for five minutes about these topics.  Because they’re midway through these books, they have more knowledge of the text than just the first and last lines.  After a few minutes of writing about what they’ve noticed, I ask, “Now, how does revisiting the first line, and looking ahead to the last line, shape your reading of the text?  What do you find yourself thinking about?  What do you predict might happen?”

Follow-Up:  After students have written their reflections, I ask that they pass notebooks.  They’ll read all of their table mates’ entries, providing 2-3 mini-booktalks–a variation on speed dating.

This lesson could also be a great companion to Jackie’s mini-lesson on writing leads.

This lesson also acts as one of a series of lessons leading up to the students’ writing of a craft analysis of their independent reading books.

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