Monthly Archives: December 2013

Awards Season is Coming

Happy Holidays everyone.  With new year fast approaching it is time to start thinking about what books might be receiving the coveted Newbery Medal.  I have read a great deal over the year and I am happy to say that yet again this might be a tough one for the selection panel.  (sidenote: I would love to be on that committee one day)

With that being said here are some of my selections for some of the top books of the past year. I hope you get the chance to read some of these as well.


The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban
It follows the story of Tim Macbeth, a seventeen-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is “Enter here to be and find a friend.” A friend is the last thing Tim expects or wants—he just hopes to get through his senior year unnoticed. Yet, despite his efforts to blend into the background, he finds himself falling for the quintessential “It” girl, Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of Irving’s most popular boy. To Tim’s surprise, Vanessa is into him, too, but she can kiss her social status goodbye if anyone ever finds out. Tim and Vanessa begin a clandestine romance, but looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving’s version of a senior year thesis, assigned by the school’s least forgiving teacher.


Brotherhood by Anne Westrick
The year is 1867, the South has been defeated, and the American Civil War is over. But the conflict goes on. Yankees now patrol the streets of Richmond, Virginia, and its citizens, both black and white, are struggling to redefine their roles and relationships. By day, fourteen-year-old Shadrach apprentices with a tailor and sneaks off for reading lessons with Rachel, a freed slave, at her school for African-American children. By night he follows his older brother Jeremiah to the meetings of a group whose stated mission is to protect Confederate widows like their mother. But as the true murderous intentions of the group, now known as the Ku Klux Klan, are revealed, Shad finds himself trapped between old loyalties and what he knows is right.


Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo and K.G. Campbell
It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry — and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart.


The Ugly One by Leanne Statland Ellis
At the height of the Incan empire, a girl called the Ugly One because of a disfiguring scar on her face, seeks to have the scar removed and instead finds a life path as a shaman.




Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now. Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.


What we Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World by Henry Clark
When River, Freak, and Fiona discover a mysterious sofa sitting at their bus stop, their search for loose change produces a rare zucchini-colored crayon. Little do they know this peculiar treasure is about to launch them into the middle of a plot to conquer the world! The kids’ only hope is to trap the plot’s mastermind when he comes to steal the crayon. But how can three kids from the middle of nowhere stop an evil billionaire? With the help of an eccentric neighbor, an artificially intelligent domino, a DNA-analyzing tray, two hot air balloons, and a cat named Mucus, they just might be able to save the planet.


Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinken
A true crime thriller — the first book for teens to tell the nearly unknown tale of the brazen attempt to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body! The action begins in October of 1875, as Secret Service agents raid the Fulton, Illinois, workshop of master counterfeiter Ben Boyd. Soon after Boyd is hauled off to prison, members of his counterfeiting ring gather in the back room of a smoky Chicago saloon to discuss how to spring their ringleader. Their plan: grab Lincoln’s body from its Springfield tomb, stash it in the sand dunes near Lake Michigan, and demand, as a ransom, the release of Ben Boyd –and $200,000 in cash. From here, the action alternates between the conspirators, the Secret Service agents on their trail, and the undercover agent moving back and forth between the two groups. Along the way readers get glimpses into the inner workings of counterfeiting, grave robbing, detective work, and the early days of the Secret Service. The plot moves toward a wild climax as robbers and lawmen converge at Lincoln’s tomb on election night: November 7, 1876.


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Filed under Awards, Books, Reading, Reviews

Open up the World of Culture

Sure students know who Vincent Van Gogh, E.B. White, and Roald Dahl are.  But what do they know about contemporary authors, and artists? Well now they can learn.  Culture Street is a organization that is based out of the UK that is determined to introduce students to contemporary artists, writers, filmmakers,  and performers.   Culture Street’s goal is to encourage creativity in the classroom…and beyond.

With four distinct channels to learn from (Arts, Film, Books, Stage)  students will have the opportunity to view videos, listen to interviews, have access to  interactive activities and watch workshops for better understanding of how professionals work.

The book channel (a personal favorite of mine) allows the user to create their own picture book, and comic book.  You must be a registered member to access many of the elements on the site so parents should be involved. Teachers have the opportunity to pre-made lessons and tie-ins to current learning trends to help integrate the arts into everyday subjects.  Even though the organization is based out to the UK, foreign educators and parents should not shy away from this fun rewarding activity.  Thank your



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Filed under Art, Books, Cartoons, Creativity, Digital Story Telling, Reading

A Merry Scrooge to You

Tis the season.  It is one of my favorite times of year.  Especially since I will get to see so many awesome holiday movies. One of my favorites being “A Christmas Carol,” it is also one of my mother’s favorites as well.   So I was so happy to read in a magazine that they are taking the classic story and creating a language arts activity.  This is post is not me being lazy but I would not have been able to summarize this so I decided I will just share the whole article.   If you want to see what other tips, and lessons some educators have to offer please check out  Think Teachers at

But now here we go:

A Turn of the Scrooge: What in the Dickens is up with our favorite ghost story?

Long before Jim Carrey portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in Disney’s 3D version of A Christmas Carol the story written by Charles Dickens in 1843 has been performed in countless films, operas, television specials, and live theater.  All of them take on new adaptations of the core story, which has remained pretty similar over the past 166 years: In short, the grumpy old man is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and teach ole’ Ebenezer the value of values and he finds redemption in the Christmas spirit.  Just like any growing legend, time adds history…Here are some to get you in the spirit of the season:

  • Charles Dickens spend part of his childhood in prison after his father was arrested for failing to pay his debt. At the time, entire families of prisoners would go to jail with this prisoner.
  • In 1843, Dickens was exposed to tin mines where children worked. These impressions helped him relate to the poor working class.
  • Dickens’ book was originally a short story titled A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.
  • The book was first published on Dec. 19, 1843 and cost 5 shillings (which in today’s money was a little more than $5). The first run 6,000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve.
  • The story inspired American classics such as the 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and Dr. Seuss’ 1957 book How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
  • Three different stage productions opened on Feb. 5, 1844 and by the end of the month, eight shows were being performed.
  • Patrick Stewart (aka Professor X in the X-Men movies) has performed his one-man reading/acting of the story throughout London theaters and in New York City on Broadway.

So once you share these little tidbits with your students you would want to get on to the actual activity.  So here we go.

First you would want to get a picture to represent each of the ghosts in the story (Past, Present and Future).

Make three columns on a piece of paper and put a picture at the top of each column.

Next have the students complete the following:
In A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge learns his lessons after the three ghosts visit him.  If you were to get visits, what would the ghosts tell you?  Write your answers below.

After I read this article I started laughing to myself because depending on the age range the answers will be hilarious.  Remember you can always preview this lesson by reading the book in class, or even watch one of the movie versions or play each ghosts’ section of the movie to emphasis what is being asked.   Thought this was a fun little activity and I wanted to share.
“A Turn of the Scrooge: What in the Dickens is up with our favorite ghost story?.” Think Teachers. Dec 2013: 28. Print. <>.

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Support Reading

Being a librarian I teach my classes all about research,  inquiry learning, and how to use the library for both school and personal use.  But that can get boring. Honestly, how many times can a student sit and listen to me drone on an on about “writing a bibliography,” “how to create note cards,” “how to evaluate a website,” and so forth.   I want to change-up the routine.  So for a few times throughout the year, I play little games with the classes.  But there is a reading twist.  Each game, be it a crossword puzzle, or word search, or scavenger hunt, each game has a reading element to it. Meaning, they involve books the students might have read on their own, or in class, or at least have heard about.

The most popular one is by far and away the Wordle game. If you don’t know about Wordles, Wordle is an online program that allows the user to create a word cloud. See previous post ‎ or check out

I start by selecting 7-10 books or book series that I think the students will be able to guess by only a few clues, usually these are popular books or books that have been made into movies.

Than I create a Wordle using key phrases, character names, plot points etc. that describe the book or book series.

I create an answer sheet that ask either ‘name the book’ or ‘name the book series.’

The students then have to figure out what book or book series I am talking about based on the clues given in the Wordle.

Some are very easy, while others might be  harder and a bit older so the students  might not know it.  But there is always one person in each group that has read the book

This is definitely my most popular game, because students sometimes don’t see a word or  a name and go in a completely different direction.  I also get asked many times, can we play that word game again only with different books?  So I think this one is a keeper.

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Filed under Books, Creativity, Word Cloud

Challenging my Students

We have heard this a thousand times before “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.”  And mostly we are referring to judging a person.  But I decided to take this back to books.

I have noticed that students end up selecting books by one particular author, or subject matter, or genre etc.  And no matter how hard I tried, putting something else in their hands never worked. They would look at it and then say ehh.  Or they would grab what ever their friends were returning, since it most likely fell into the realm of what they always read.  Well I decided to put a little challenge in front of them.

Allow me to introduce the Don’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover challenge.

Judge a book by its cover

I have 24 book choices

Students will not get to see the covers of the books

They will not get to see the titles of the books

They will not get to see the authors of the books

The only thing they do get are three lines that describe the plot of the book. Examples are: Young girl forced to live with her mean uncle; Unlikely friendship; The bully becomes the bullied; Small town mystery has everyone pointing fingers;  Former boxer turned humanitarian; etc.

The books range from fiction, biographies, poetry,  and story collections.  Once the student picks the plot point he/she likes we give them the book, with these rules

1) they must take it even if they think they are going to hate it after seeing the cover (tough all part of the challenge)

2) they must read it for at least one week. If after the week they don’t like they can bring it back but they have to give us (meaning me and their language arts teacher) reason why they do not like it. We will test them to see if they actually read it.

I thought this was going to be dead in the water, but surprisingly enough the students have really responded to it.  Some have even asked if the books they selected have sequels cause they really liked the story. Others have said they didn’t like it, but read it anyway because they didn’t want to leave undone.  But the good thing is, I now know what they like and don’t like, so when they come to me asking what they should read I can provide them with more informed recommendations.  It has been a fun experiment with a very rewarding payoff.


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Student Reviewers I give it 4 Stars

Students are reading more.  I love it. They are reading more and they are actually enjoying it.  Well some of them. But a majority of them are finally reading books they want to read and that interest them and as a result they are finding enjoyment. YES YES YES!!  I am thrilled at this.   But now we face the battle of getting them to talk about the books they read.

Some bask in the glow of the spot light, and  can not wait to get up and talk and talk and talk and….talk about anything and everything.  But than you have the shy ones. The ones that would rather crawl under the desk and hide than speak up in class.  Well good thing there are other options, and one that fell across my lap recently .

Allow me to  introduce LitPick ( an online service that allows the students to read new releases or not yet released titles, write reviews, and then have their review posted on the site for other users to see. They are in essence becoming a book reviewer.  Only they won’t receive payment for it, instead they will be able to keep their copy of the book and have their work published on the world-wide web.

However, LitPick is not just a site for reading, with every review the students write there is a trained editor reviewing their work and editing were needed. Then the editor shares with the student their thoughts and comments, in turn helping to guide the student into becoming a better writer.

This is not a free service and students are not allowed to sign up on their own, they must have an adult signing up with them as well. But there is group pricing for libraries, classrooms, and home schools.  And titles are available in both e-book and standard book format.  This is a great site to get both active and non active readers finding books that peak their interest, learn about writing more efficiently, and most importantly, learning to be vocal about their reading choices and about any topic in general.

I suggest you check it out. It is a great program.


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Filed under Books, Creativity, ebooks, Reading, Reviews, Social Networking, Technology

Saw it and Loved it

I have mentioned before but I feel I should offer my review for Catching Fire.  It was a great adaptation of the book. Were parts missing, of course, but did it overly effect the flow the movie, no.  The actors all worked well together (Jena Malone huge surprise for me).  I really have to say that the way the movie flows does a fine job setting the final two installments up.

My students are thrilled that I saw it. And my husband is finally happy that I won’t be talking about how “I can’t wait to see it” anymore.  I enjoyed it and have spoken highly of it. And now I can’t wait to see the last two.


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