Tag Archives: #fridayreads

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

YA Fiction That’s Funny and Full of Voice

After millions of snow days, my student teacher, Mike, and I are finally wrapping up our Siddhartha self-reflection unit and jumping into a new writing unit I’m really excited about–comedy!  We’ll study satire, sketch comedy, stand-up, commentary, and monologues for mentor texts, then work with our students to craft strong comedy writings that exemplify the skills of pacing, payoff, “punch-up,” and one other skill that I think is the most important:

Voice.

Writing voice, for me, is where humor, sarcasm, and personality come alive in a piece of writing.  “Voice,” Tom Romano writes, “is the writer’s presence on the page.”  Voice is the most elusive quality of writing to teach, I think, because it’s not really quantifiable and cannot be duplicated or imitated.  Each writer must craft his own authentic voice.

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Brainstorming the bare bones of a comedy unit

While discussing the very bare bones of our comedy unit, we brainstormed mentor texts, seed prompts, and writing skills.  After we hammered those out, Mike wondered about which books to booktalk for the unit.  “Nonfiction comedy is easy,” he said.  “Bossypants, Yes Please, Confederacy of Dunces.  But I’m not sure what to booktalk for fiction.”

“But YA fiction is so hilarious!” I exclaimed.  I started rattling off narrators who cracked me up.  Their writing voices were the perfect mentor texts for our students, who’d be focusing on crafting a humorous writing voice over the course of the unit.

“Looks like I know what I’ll be brushing up on for my weekend reading,” Mike remarked.  So here, in part, is a list of what I recommended to him–YA fiction that’s funny and full of voice.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie — This novel, paired with illustrations by the narrator, is loosely based on Alexie’s own upbringing somewhere between two identities–his poor Indian self who lives on the rez, and his striving-to-succeed “white” self who attends a better school up the road.  It’s infused with Alexie’s signature wry humor even against a pretty dark plot backdrop.

49750An Abundance of Katherines by John Green — This is, to me, the funniest of Green’s novels, although all of his narrators are pretty hilarious.  Colin Singleton has dated 19 girls named Katherine, and has been dumped by all of them.  If that’s not funny enough as it is, Colin is trying to write a mathematical formula for relationships and likes to find anagrams in random places.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by e. lockhart — For me, Frankie is the female version of James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.  Determined to subvert the male-dominated traditions at her private school, Frankie gets into all kinds of mischief, and I loved her headstrong voice.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang — This excellent graphic novel pairs multiple storylines, all of which are made hilarious primarily through dialogue and stylistic choices in Yang’s illustrations.  From antagonists so dumb they’re funny to Yang’s monkey alter ego, this is a humorous look at growing up different in America.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins — I identified so much with the quirky narrator of this novel.  Forced to change schools right before her senior year, Anna is self-deprecating, sarcastic, and delightfully bewildered when she moves to the International School of Paris.  There’s also a great cast of hilarious supporting characters here.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy — I just loved Willowdean, the narrator of this terrific, important novel.  Most of her snide comments are made through internal monologues, but her interactions with her mom through dialogue are also quite funny, too.  Like Part-Time Indian, there are some heavier themes, but all in all I smiled throughout most of this book.

9464733Beauty Queens by Libba Bray — An all-girls’ Lord of the Flies, this book was fantastic for a variety of reasons.  The colorful cast of alternating narrators means there’s someone every reader can identify with, the interactions between those characters are often ridiculous and hysterical, and interwoven with it all is a series of broadcasts from a corrupt third party who are so evil it’s funny.

Noggin by John Corey Whaley — I finally read this book after it was stolen from my library countless times, and it’s hilarious from page one.  The story of a boy whose head is transplanted onto another teen’s body after he dies of cancer, Travis’ tale is at turns heartbreaking and hilarious as he tries to navigate the world five years after he last left it.  A fantastic series of supporting characters elevated the humor in this book for me, too.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews — For me, this was a more realistic version of The Fault in Our Stars.  I found Greg’s writing voice engaging and entertaining right away, and it made me read this book in one sitting.  His frequent addresses to the reader combined with his hilarious interactions with his friend Earl made Greg a favorite narrator of mine, and makes me eager for Jesse Andrews to write some more books!

Winger by Andrew Smith — All of Andrew Smith’s writings are hilarious at times, but for me Winger was the funniest.  Ryan Dean West is a scrappy fifteen-year-old making his way through freshman year at a private school, and his escapades with his rugby teammates, his crush, and his teachers made for a lot of laughs–up until I completely broke down in sobs for the last 30 pages or so of the book.  Still, Ryan Dean’s voice was so great that I couldn’t wait to devour this book’s sequel, Stand-Off.

What are some of the best-voiced YA books you’ve read that have cracked you up?  Please share in the comments!

Best High-Interest Books for Teens

This year, Amy and I were determined to make our exams authentic.  One of the options for the reading portion of the exam was for our students to create top 10 lists, and many of them did.  Their lists are funny, honest, and so valuable for helping spread the word amongst readers about good books.  Below is Aleigha’s list of recommendations for high-interest books that will hook teens and get them to fall in love with reading–feel free to share them with your students!

img_1175Aleigha’s Top 10 List:  Best High-Interest for Teens

  1. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Though this book was funny and lighthearted it still had the ability to change my life.  It really helped me realize that you should appreciate your siblings while they are close to you.  Seeing how quickly Cath and Wren distanced themselves in college put my relationship with my siblings into perspective.

  1. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This book is so much different from your usual love story. By that I mean it’s extremely realistic. It changed my life because I could picture myself as Eleanor. It was one of those books that are so realistic it’s kind of scary not many love stories can make you envision yourself as the character.

  1. I Hate Myselfie by Shane Dawson

hatemyselfieI have never laughed so hard while reading a book. This guy literally takes everything that should have been traumatic to him and turns it into humor. This book changed my life because it taught me that it is important to laugh at your own pain. You shouldn’t take everything so seriously.

  1. Looking for Alaska by John Green

This book for me is one that really set an example. It breaks away from the normal click of kids you have in high school and puts a group of complete opposites in a single friend group. That was one of my favorite things about this book. It just kind of made me feel like it’s okay for me to talk to the jock or the pothead.

  1. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

This book is very eye opening. It is about two teenagers who bond over a mental illness and fall in love it. It makes you very aware of the signs of depression and makes you analyze not only yourself but others. This book has the ability to change lives because it teaches you about the sensitive topic of depression.workinprogress

  1. A Work in Progress by Connor Franta

The author of this book is a Youtuber who tells you all about his life in high school and his YouTube journey. The book itself contains a lot of life lessons. He tells a story and then wraps it up with a lesson at the end. I enjoyed this book a lot because it shows how a normal really small town kid can become really successful with hard work.

  1. We Were Liars by e. lockhart

If we’re being honest, the only reason this book changed my life is because it just made me really depressed. I was just extremely upset once I reached the end of it. I didn’t want to believe what had happened was true and I cried for the main character. And then I cried because what other reaction can you have to a book that ended so terribly. So I guess this book changed my life because it made me realize that I cry more for fictional characters than I do for people I actually know.  

  1. The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Again another book that screwed me up emotionally. This one really does make you cherish your life and your friends. If after reading this you are not greatful for what and who you are blessed with that will be a surprise. Everytime I read this book I don’t just form my own imaginary relationship with Augustus Waters. I also find myself being very thankful that I have experienced little loss in my life.  This book is another one that puts it all into perspective.

  1. Every day by David Levithan

Every day is a book about a person who wakes up in a different body every day. He never has the chance to experience what it is like to have a family or best friend. This book is perksofbeinglife changing for me because it makes you appreciate the blessing of continuity. I think having a constant in your life is something that we all take for granted.

10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those books that make you really cherish your friends. Until you find out what happens to Charlie as a child, you assume the book is about a young boy coming out of his shell. As u read through the book, you experience the ups and downs of friendship and watch Charlie become a whole new person. This book has made me really appreciate my friends.

4 Monthly Challenges to Beat the Winter Reading Slump

New England winters lend themselves to steamy mugs of cocoa, plush blankets, and chilly evenings curled around a book.  Despite the ideal environment, halfway through the year, some of my students hit a reading slump.  The initial momentum of the reading initiative subsides, leaving students a bit more lackluster come second semester.

In turn, here are four challenges I plan to integrate over the next three months to beat the winter slump and reinvigorate students’ passion for reading.

1. January: Reading Bingo and Challenge Lists

The New Year, or for us, the second semester lends itself to fresh reading goals.  Goal-setting and self-reflection aside, I love reading challenges that push students to step out of their reading comfort zone and delve into new genres.  This year I comYA-Reading-Bingo-Challenge-2014piled a variety of reading challenge lists that I’ll be printing out on bookmarks to provide to my students.

I personally love the #26BookswithBringingUpBurns challenge, which has readers fulfilling challenges like reading “A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit” and “A book with a color in the title.”  I’m also enjoying Rebeccah Giltrow’s BookaShelf 2016 Reading Challenge, which has participants base their book choices on the alphabet.  For example, “A” stands for “a book with an apocalyptical theme.”  Finally, Random House’s “YA Reading Bingo” is the perfect way to get students reading through rows of books while competing with one another to fill in a bingo card.

2. February: Book Trysts and Library Dates 

February lends itself to romance with Valentine’s Day, so to celebrate our book love, students will set up blind dates for some of their favorite books.  They will cover their choices in brown packing paper and write “dating profiles” including intriguing qualities readers will hopefully fall for.

In addition, students will participate in a library “date” with a friend from class.  Inspired by this “date night at the library” post by The Dating Divas, I created a list of entertaining and useful tasks and challenges for students to complete.  From “finding a book authored by someone with the same name” to “finding a book that has been made into a movie,” this friendly competition will put books in students’ hands while also promoting conversations revolving their reading.

3. March: March Madness and the Literary Hashtag Challenge

As March Madness approaches, my basketball students will be building teams and taking bets.  I know little about basketball…but I do know about books, which is why I’m hoping to create a March Madness that looks similar to Shana’s last year.  For those looking to create student-based teams, Principal Justin Cameron’s “Fantasy Reading League” at Frederick W. Hartnett Middle School gets the entire school involved in the competition together.

Finally, in March I will launch a new literary hashtag challenge that asks students to IMG_1801.PNGexhibit their reading lives outside of school.  Students will e-mail a Twitter or Instagram class account with literary images that include the following hashtags: #LiterarySwag (a hashtag for fashionistas who know books can serve as a stylish statement piece for any outfit), #Shelfie (a hashtag for beautiful bookshelves), #IReadEverywhere (a hashtag to highlight reading in unique places), and my favorite #BookFace (a hashtag that pushes people to be a bit more creative with their book covers).

By putting new books in students’ hands, I’m hoping to inspire a little competition, a lot of conversation, and a passion that will turn them into lifelong readers.

 

How do you reinvigorate students’ passion for reading?  What tips do you have to make it through the winter reading slump?

 

#FridayReads: 8 Stocking Stuffers That Will Change Your Classroom

While I love the beautiful handmade gifts of my students the most, there are a couple untraditional stocking stuffers that I’m putting on my Christmas wish list this year.  These are the tried and true tools that somehow keep my classroom just a bit more sane during those hectic moments (like the days leading up to holiday break).  So in the last eight days before Christmas, here are eight stocking stuffers for a colleague, teaching friend, or even yourself!

  1. Headphones: This was the greatest gift my cooperating teacher gave me. His secret was to always keep extra sets of ear buds handy.  To this day, I stock up on cheap headphones from Marshalls (and alcohol wipes to clean them) at the beginning of the school year. Oftentimes it helps some of my antsier students tune out their surroundings and dial into their writing.
  1. Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty: Amy bought this for me this past candy-cane-9summer, and it is a miracle worker.  I initially brought it in for a student who has severe ADHD.  He was oftentimes overstimulated by his peers.  Playing with the thinking putty changed his behavior drastically.  What I love most is the thicker viscosity of the putty keeps students more engaged…and it comes in holiday colors, including white christmas, gelt, and candy cane.
  1. Conferring Chair: I wrote about my conferring chair here, but I cannot stress enough what an impact having this chair has had on accessing my students within the classroom. Last year I spent time kneeling next to students or awkwardly standing over them as they sat at their desks. Purchasing a conferring chair that was lightweight, foldable, and small allowed me to discreetly enter conversations, conference with students, and set up mini workshop areas throughout the classroom.
  1. Awesome Citations: I love giving my students small pick-me-ups, 12098_Awesome_1which include these quirky “awesome citations” I found at a novelty shop. I enjoy filling them out, leaving a small note at the bottom, and either tucking them into writer’s notebooks or dropping them off at unexpected times.
  1. Writing Prompt Books: As the advisor of Writer’s Club, I can’t get enough of writing prompt books like The Writer’s Block: 786 Ideas to Jump-Start Your Imagination by Jason Rekulak, 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, and 100 Quickwrites by Linda Rief. Not only do I pull them out during club meetings, but I use them as inspiration for class quick-writes, or to begin brainstorming for independent writing pieces.
  1. Magnets: Magnets might not be on the top of your wish list, but they are exceptionally convenient when it comes to students’ presentations of writing, artwork, or posters. Odd, yes, but I love when my students can present hands-free without the awkwardness of holding large posters or pictures for other group members.
  1. Coloring Meditation Books: I love keeping photocopied pages from coloring meditation books on hand for spare moments. Not only are they calming for many students, particularly those with anxiety, but 51N8TdfrZ6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_they are also great for extra time during club meetings and advisory or homeroom periods…or, as one of my students said, “My mom loves doing those when she drinks wine.” That is always an option for tired teachers too.
  1. My True Love Gave to Me: High school English teachers (and their students) will love this anthology of Christmas stories from top YA authors including some of my favorites, Rainbow Rowell, David Levithan, and Matt De La Pena!

 

What is on your teaching wish list or gift list this season?

 

 

 

#FridayReads: 7 Author-Talks Students Love

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This week’s author-talks

As my students and I returned from a full nine days of Thanksgiving break this week, getting back into the groove of workshop was tough–for all of us.  I was totally whacked out from frantically finishing NaNoWriMo, and the kids were all out of sorts from too much turkey and not enough routine.

I needed something that would hook them back into the magic of reading and writing workshop–wonderful books, but more than that…wonderful authors who write those books.  So this week and next, my booktalks are all author-talks…book pairings by high-interest authors students love, whose stories captivate and amaze and inspire.  Here are seven book pairings by the same author that are insanely popular with my readers.

Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl & Carry On Fangirl goes over well with my seniors for two reasons–one, it was drafted during NaNoWriMo, and two, it begins on the first day college for the main character, Cath.  Cath is an unabashed fangirl who writes her own fanfiction–and that’s where Carry On comes in.  Carry On is the fanfic that Cath spent most of Fangirl writing.  For a generation who grew up reading as many alternate-ending fanfics for Harry Potter as they did, this unique pairing is a instant hit.

Inside-Countdown-2

Inside Countdown

Deborah Wiles, RevolutionCountdown – Penny Kittle has been singing the praises of Revolution for two years now, first at UNHLit and then again this year at NCTE.  It’s a brilliant multigenre novel that blends photos from the sixties with the narrative of a girl struggling to deal with that tumultuous time in history herself.  Countdown, the first book in the series, is even more popular with my students than Revolution is.  The series helps bring to life something they study in history class again and again, all in a unique, compelling format.

Chris Lynch, Freewill & Inexcusable – The award-winning Inexcusable tells a story of sexual violence from the perpetrator’s point of view.  Kids are compelled by this tale’s unique presentation of a controversial event, and it helps boys and girls alike gain a new perspective on an act that is often discussed but rarely experienced.  After they read Inexcusable, I recommend the Printz-nominated Freewill, the story of a boy who is oddly compelled to create totems in his wood shop class after a rash of local teens begin committing suicide.  Themes of grief, guilt, and creative outlet make this one a hit with my students too, as does the unique fact that it’s told in second person point of view.

wintergirls

Inside Wintergirls

Laurie Halse Anderson, The Impossible Knife of Memory & Wintergirls – Most students at our school read Speak in ninth grade, and they begin to appreciate Laurie Halse Anderson even more when they read Wintergirls, the story of a teen who battles bulimia and anorexia.  The writing in this book is stunning, and the plot is compelling.  When kids finish this un-put-down-able book, I recommend The Impossible Knife of Memory, in which a teen girl struggles with her father’s PTSD after his return from Iraq.  The novel hooks both boys and girls, as it follows both the father and daughter’s struggle.

Matt de la Pena, The Living The Hunted – In The Living, Shy is excited to get a job on a cruise liner…until “The Big One”–a major earthquake on the Pacific coast–hits.  Most of the passengers and crew aboard the cruise ship are killed, save for a few, including Shy, and a few people also on the dinghy he clings to for life.  When Shy learns a secret that people will kill for, he goes from just being one of the living to being one of the hunted.  This believable suspense series hooks my students.

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Inside Symphony for the City of the Dead

M.T. Anderson, Feed & Symphony for the City of the Dead – I learned about Symphony for the City of the Dead, a powerful book detailing the siege of Leningrad during World War II, while standing in line to register for ALAN.  Kim McCollum-Clark told a few of us teachers and librarians about this amazing story, which pairs gripping exposition with historical photographs from the time period.  Amid brutality, Dmitri Shostakovich wrote a symphony for his dying city that uplifted both its citizens and the Allied forces working to free them.  The spies and death and music of the book intrigue my students, and I recommend to them Feed when they finish.  Feed is eerily plausible, the story of a future in which smartphones aren’t in our hands, they’re in our heads.  The feed contains advertisements, social media, news, sports, and anything we currently look at on our phones–all behind your retinas.  When an accident disables Titus’ feed, he struggles with life beyond the feed, and it’s a haunting cautionary tale my students are compelled by.

Jason Reynolds, The Boy in the Black Suit & All-American Boys (with Brendan Kiely) – I picked up The Boy in the Black Suit last year at ALAN, and this year I scored All-American Boys after Amy’s recommendation.  In Black Suit, the main character wears a black suit every day for his job at a funeral home, although his peers think it’s some weird tribute to his mother’s recent death.  Matt feels like he is barely getting by until he meets Lovey, who is a model of strength despite dealing with even more tragedy than he.  All-American Boys is a timely novel that alternates between points of view of Rashad and Quinn as both boys–one black, one white–deal with an incident involving Rashad, a fist-happy cop, and Quinn as a witness.  It is haunting and beautifully written and incredibly eye-opening for my readers.

What author-talks are guaranteed to engage your readers?  Please share in the comments!

#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?

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