IMWAYR – February 29, 2016


It is LEAP DAY today!  I’m trying to think of it as an extra day that I can read amazing books.

This week I finished a dystopian novel for book club, an Oz novella, and started something for this week!

Book Club – Uglies

This week’s book club discussion was on Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.  In this futuristic society, Tally is anxiously awaiting her 16th birthday.  This is the day that she will undergo a surgery to become Pretty.  All kids go through this in Tally’s society.  However, her new friend Shay would rather leave society and go live in a community called The Smoke.  There are no surgeries in The Smoke, everyone stays “ugly”. 

Tally decides to go ahead and have the surgery, but something happens.  She is taken to see people known as the Specials who force her to spy on and tell the location of The Smoke.  Tally must go to The Smoke, activate a transponder, and betray her friends.  What will she do?

I really enjoyed this book.  I most likely will read the rest of the series in the future.  It is one of those great books that ends with a twist and cliff-hanger.  I recommend it for all dystopian fans who want to reflect on beauty in our modern society.

The Novella – Ruler of Beasts

Ruler of Beasts, by Danielle Paige is the 6th Prequel Novella in the Dorothy Must Die series.  In this series, Glinda and Dorothy have teamed up to control Oz – wrestling control from Ozma and the Scarecrow!

This installment has the Lion (formerly Cowardly) heading to the Emerald City.  Glinda sent him to find a ruby necklace without Ozma knowing.  However, Lion and Ozma end up going on an adventure to save Oz from the Nome King.

This series is one of my favorite “flipped reality” stories.  If you like Oz, or characters painted in a different light, check out some of the Dorothy Must Die series!

The coming week…

My book club chose a book I had already read – Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  I read this book in the fall and it was amazing.  I didn’t want to bring the group down, so I’ll pull together some links and extensions about the book for our discussion.


I’ve started a Pura Belpre winner for my next read.  Coming up after that….I just don’t know.  So I need your help!

I currently have these books awaiting me at my house (either Kindle or print versions).  Where should I go next?


What did you read this week?  What should I read next?  Let’s talk below….



Diversity in YA Lit – A True Mosaic?

In 2013, 2% of children’s literature books that were published featured an African American character.  TWO!

Wait!  What are you talking about?
Courtesy Creative Commons

This week I read some articles about the lack of diversity in young adult and children’s literature.  I learned some really shocking things.  The most obvious one is the extreme disparity in books that feature characters different from the majority population.  I’m talking about books that feature strong, intelligent people from all walks of life, all skin colors, all gender identities, all beliefs.  The statistic above is that 93 of 3,200 books published in 2013 for children and teens featured a character of African American descent.  Yikes!

Why is this happening?

That is the subject of numerous opinion pieces and articles.  Christopher Myers says it beautifully in this op-ed from the NY Times.  “The closest I can get to the orchestrator of the plot – my villain with his ferret – is The Market.”  Meyers is arguing that publishers and editors say no to books by and featuring characters with differences because no one would buy them or there is no market for this.  Really publishing industry?  Really?

Zetta Elliott, author of books for children, teens, and adults, brings the issue to the bare bones.  She writes,

What I am trying to say to children’s publishers is that the lack of books for children in our communities IS A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.  I am not asking you to level the playing field as a “favor” to people of color.  I am asking you to work with us in our efforts to transform children’s lives.

It is imperative that all students can see themselves in the books they read.  It is essential that they learn about others who are different in the books they read.

Walter Dean Myers wrote about books and  diversity.  He writes, “Books transmit values.  They explore our common humanity.” This is the crux of it for me.  When we read and share books with students, we are also sharing a snapshot of our values as a culture and society.  Our society doesn’t look like the ones in most YA and Children’s lit books.

So what can we do about it?

I think the first thing we can do is to realize that there is more we can do!  Again, Walter Dean Myers is a simple and effective voice.  “There is more to be done.” We as readers and educators need to do more to get books about all types of people into our students’ hands.

We can get these works in our students hands by buying them ourselves, reading them, book talking them, sharing them with students.  As teachers we have an obligation to show our students the truth of the world and inspire them to change it for the better.  If we don’t read these books, we can’t book talk them honestly or recommend them honestly.  It is our duty as teachers to do this.

I have been fortunate enough to grow up in an area where being different was expected.  I looked like some of my friends, and looked like the opposite of others.  We had different beliefs, customs, colors of our skin. I never knew the world to be any different from that – I thought everyone lived this way.

And yet, I live in a place now that this is not a reality for our community.  We are not a very diverse community.  I believe that is why it is especially important for me to put books into my students’ hands that reflect the world I know is outside our town.  I need to be sure to read diversely, book talk diversely, recommend diversely.

Courtesy Creative Commons
Courtesy Creative Commons

I hope that the books in my classroom library will represent the beautiful mosaic of our world.  I hope my students can see the beautiful picture made up of different sized, different colored, different textured pieces.  Maybe they won’t see the beautiful picture.  But maybe, just maybe, they will get a glimpse of that different colored tile – an experience different from theirs – and they will be able to honor and respect it.


Why do you read diversely?  What makes a diverse library?  Let’s talk below…

Reading Response: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

This week our book club discussed Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld.

Uglies follows Tally as she is coming closer to her 16th birthday – the day she will get an operation to become a Pretty.  Two weeks before her birthday, she meets Shay, a girl who shares her birthday and does not share her excitement about the operation.  Shay runs away before her birthday, but Tally wants to stay and become Pretty.

However, the head, Dr. Cable, forces Tally to discover where Shay and the others are hiding.  Does Tally decide to betray her friend and break her promise not tell others about the Smoke?  Or, does she give up her chance to be Pretty and stay with the runaways in the Smoke?

I completed a Dailies log for my reading response to this book.  Most of my quotations fall along the theme of viewing our society through the lens of dystopia.  This was a major focus for our book club too!  What can we learn from reading dystopia?  How is our society mirrored in Uglies? How is our world better than the world of Uglies?  How is it worse?

Passage What I Think What My Book Club Thinks What I Think Now
“The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.” (1) This is amazing imagery. The author really helps me get a sense of his world with his word choice. Uglies is an excellent way to look into our world from a safe distance. The society of their world is one that takes a few of our negative aspects and magnifies them.   The most important thing in their world is their physical beauty, not intellect, or talent.
“But we’re best friends right?” He sighed, dabbing at a brown stain. “Sure, forever. In three months.” (20) The most important phrase in this section is “in three months”. Peris doesn’t seem as interested in Tally’s friendship now that he is Pretty. OR, did Tally/the author not really represent their friendship accurately in the beginning? It is like he does not have time for Tally until she turns pretty.
“Shay didn’t look, just shrugged. ‘That’s not me. It’s some committee’s idea of me.’ Tally smiled and hugged her. ‘It will be you, though. Really you. Soon.'” (45) I often feel like Shay – the world’s version of pretty isn’t mine. Like Shay, I want to be smart. It isn’t like I don’t want to be pretty. Rather, I just think other things are more important that how I look.
“We don’t have to look like everyone else, Tally, and act like everyone else. We’ve got a choice. We can grow up any way we want.” (89) I wish I had her sense of confidence as a 16 year old!
“Tally had never realized how much stuff she’d needed before.” (153) This is me EVERY TIME I pack to go somewhere!
“She wondered how much of being ugly was just an awkward age.” (189) EXACTLY! I wish that I had learned that lesson as a teenager. How can I teach that to students?
“My parents were runaways, not me.” (217) This makes sense. It seems that David doesn’t quite have the same understanding of the cities as Shay or Tally. Dystopian fiction gives us the chance to entertain a world with our worst selves in charge. It gives students an extreme world that allows them to reflect upon their own beliefs. It gives people an opportunity to say, “That’s OUTRAGEOUS!” and indirectly working to change these same things in our modern society.
“You’re all brainwashed into believing you’re ugly.” (276) This seems to mirror modern society. There is such an emphasis on physical beauty and “perfection”. Have we been brainwashed? Absolutely. The interactions between the Pretty Peris and Tally really show the differences in thinking between the Pretties and the Uglies.
“David lowered his voice. ‘Maybe they didn’t want you to realize that every civilization has its weakness. There’s always one thing we depend on. And if someone takes it away, all that’s life is some story in a history class.'” (346) HOW TRUE! What is our society’s weakness(es)? What silly/stupid thing is going to bring us down?

Why do we read dystopia?  Is the world in Uglies like our world?  Is it different?  Let’s talk below….

IMWAYR – February 22, 2016

ItsMondayGraphicI can’t believe it is Monday again!  Where does the time fly?  Especially when you are reading!

This week I finished up Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare.  Overall, this was a great book.  I did an extensive reading response to it here, so check it out.

I want to spend a minute reflecting on the book though.  There were some excellent things about the book – great characters, plot twists.  This is the first in a prequel trilogy to the Mortal Instruments series.  I had a student tell me this was her favorite book of all of them.  I’ve had a ton of friends recommend it to me too!

And I still struggled to get through it.  I’m not sure if it because at nearly 500 pages I didn’t feel like I was making progress.  When you are carrying around a doorstop book, part of the thrill comes from being near the end.  It’s a sense of accomplishment almost.

Yet, it could have been because the book was so dense with information.  And yet, not dense.  I found myself daydreaming during the parts where she describes setting or characters  I also felt like the plot didn’t move fast enough for me in the middle third of the book.  I was only too willing to put it aside and devour something else.

So friends, would I read it again?  Probably not.  Would I recommend it to others? Probably.  This book is PERFECT for those who love supernatural elements (vampires, warlocks), Victorian England, or epic good vs. evil tales.

How was your reading week?  What did you finish? What did you start? Let’s talk below…

Classroom Libraries…A Necessity

One of the most important things in a classroom is the classroom library.  It is probably only second to a passionate teacher.

As English teachers, we must build classroom libraries filled with books that are new, fresh, and exciting to students.  But, how do we do that?

Our first step should be to create a library filled with many different genres, abilities, or “doors into reading”.  Penny Kittle’s Book Love gives a bunch of recommendations in a huge range of doors to reading.  I just kept highlighting and marking options she lists!Book Love

How do we fund our classroom libraries?  Books are expensive – especially if you are buying tens or hundreds each year.  I admit that I am a bibliophile.  Look at all these YA books I already own!

IMG_4655  IMG_4654 IMG_4653IMG_4652

And yet, I know I cannot fund a classroom library on my own.  Sarah Anderson has a couple of really great blog posts on classroom libraries.  She talks about the different methods she used to fill her classroom library.  She received books as gifts and set up a fundraising site for books.  She had to also set herself a budget – or she would spend every dollar she has on books.

She also encourages students to donate books.  They enjoy taking ownership in the classroom library and love when Mrs. Anderson puts their name in a donated by bookplate.  They also make suggestions about what should be in the next round of book acquisitions.

What is the value of a classroom library?  I don’t think it is something you can calculate or quantify.  Sarah Anderson’s students sum it up amazingly.

They say her classroom library gives them access to books, they do not need to worry about due dates, get recommendations and build a relationship with their teacher.  These are not things you can count or measure.

The value of a classroom library is that it gives teens an open and available resource, doors through which they can enter the world of reading, and begins to create life-long readers.

The classroom library is essential for every teacher.  What do you think should be in a classroom library?  How will you build your library?  Let’s talk below….

Reading Response – Clockwork Angel

I finally finished Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare.  While it is extremely massive (497 pages), it is really good.

I’ve decided to do a Quotation Response journal because this book just had so many good, thought-provoking quotes.  I wanted to share my thoughts with you!

Quotation Questions and Thoughts
“The face from her nightmare hovered in the darkness before her – a great white moon of a face, its head shaved bald, smooth as a marble.” (52) Is this figure really there? Is the thing good or evil?

What does this face have to do with the Shadowhunters? I think this face/being is not seen by everyone, just the Shadowhunters.

“The room they entered was bigger even than the ballroom she had seen before. It was longer than it was wide, with rectangular oak tables set in the middle of it, vanishing up to the far wall, which was painted with an image of an angel.   Each table was illuminated by a gas lamp that flickered white. Halfway up the walls was an interior gallery with a wooden railing running around it that could be reached by means of spiral staircases on either side of the room. Rows upon rows of bookshelves stood at intervals, like sentries forming alcoves on either side of the room. There were more bookshelves upstairs as well; the books inside were hidden behind screens of fretted metal, each screen stamped with a pattern of four Cs.   Huge, outward-curving stained-glass windows, lined with worn stone benches, were set at intervals between the shelves.” (86-87) This library sounds amazing. I really love the imagery in this book and this quotation is just a small example of the color and pictures the author creates in my mind.


It is difficult to think that this room could really be there. Since the preceding passages describe things the “mundanes” cannot see, how do we know this is really there? How will this library be important in the story?

“Somehow all of this-the Dark Sisters, your brother, your own ability, and de Quincy’s involvement-fits like a puzzle. We simply haven’t found all the missing bits yet.” (163)  

I think de Quincy kidnapped her brother.   Does Nate have shape shifting abilities too?

Is de Quincy making an army of automatons to overthrow the Shadowhunters? Does his plan have to do with the dead people Tessa turns into?

“I believe in good and evil,” said Jem. “And I believe the soul is eternal. But I don’t believe in the fiery pit, the pitchforks, or endless torment. I do not believe you can threaten people into goodness.” (175) Simple but eloquent way to describe the human condition.
“This is your true self, Tessa. This power is who you are. Whoever loves you now-and you must also love yourself-will live the truth of you.” (197) Tessa is in the midst of discovering who she is.   When we are struggling to understand ourselves, it is hard to love ourselves. We have to love our own truth before others can live us.
“Perhaps most of the objects given to you by the Dark Sisters were taken from people they had murdered.” (201) I hadn’t thought about the Dark Sisters being murderers. I know they are evil, but did they murder those people?
“You can’t concern yourself with that.   Certainly it would be wonderful if we all knew exactly who we were. But that knowledge doesn’t come from outside, but from inside. ‘Know thyself,’ as the oracle says.” Jem grinned. “My apologies if that sounds like sophistry. I’m only telling you what I’ve learned from my own experience.” (282) It is very difficult to know who we are.   Don’t we all struggle to define ourselves based on what other people say we are? How much of my identity is shaped by other people’s opinions?
“It’s just-Master Will.” Sophie’s words came out in a rush. “He isn’t someone you should care for, Miss Tessa. Not like that. He isn’t to be trusted, or relied on. He-he isn’t what you think he is.” (296) It seems really like Will has two faces.   I want to trust Sophie and discover what Will’s real story is.
“And why you fight, you take more of it? So, why don’t you stop fighting? Will and the others–”

“Would understand,” Jem finished for her. “I know they would. But there is more to life than not dying.” (341)

Jem has a great philosophy on life. There is more to life than not dying.

Does Jem’s story, his history, play into this?   Why does he say this? What does he know that we don’t know?

“The chain around her neck was vibrating and twitching. She managed to look down, her vision blurred, and saw to her amazement that the little metal angel had emerged from beneath the collar of her dress; it soared upward, lifting the chain over her head. Its eyes seemed to glow as it flew upward. For the first time its metallic wings were spread, and Tessa saw that each wing was edged with something shimmering and razor-sharp.” (405) It is about time that clockwork angel helped out Tessa! What significance does the angel have to her mother? Her parentage? Tessa’s abilities to shape shift?
“But I recalled what you had said about Boadicea. If it had not been for your words, Will…” (450) I LOVE that the history of Boadicea is in this story. Roman history for the win!
“She stood and stared at him, willing him to say what the hero in a book would say now, at this moment. Tessa, my feelings for you have grown beyond more feelings of friendship. They are so much more precious than that…” (462-463) Tessa is like all of us – she just wants the same happy ending we want for ourselves. We want the person we love to love us. We want everything to turn out nice and tidy. Yet, there is always another page…. A sequel….

IMWAYR – February 15, 2016

ItsMondayGraphicThis week was filled with a lot of different reading.  I attempted to read more than one book at a time – I’m not sure it quite worked out.  I feel like I am not making progress on any of the books!

Besides my YA reading, it was a busy week with staff development at work and church activities for Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.  Needless to say, I’m not thrilled with my reading progress this week, but it is what it is.

I was able to spend at least 4 hours reading.  I never actually timed it, so I wonder how much I typically read in a week!  I’d guess between 5 and 7 hours…but now I’m curious.  hmmmm……

The Book I Finished!

This week’s book club selection was a nonfiction book.  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: The Young Readers Edition, by William Kamkwamba, is the story of young William – a Malawian farmer who builds a windmill.  This memoir tells the story of his growing up, the struggle faced by his family during the years of famine, and his desire to keep learning despite his lack of money to attend school.  William is able to borrow books from his library and gets the idea to build a windmill to bring his family light, electricity, irrigation to their crops, and a better life.

William’s story is inspiring.  I really love how he was able to continue to learn and experiment.  He has such a passion for learning and a desire to keep learning that would be inspirational to students.  This Young Readers Edition reads like fiction – something that appealed to everyone in our book club.  One member even found us some amazing YouTube videos of him speaking.  (Check out his original TED talk here.)

This is a great book for reluctant readers, those who learn by doing, and those who are interested in what inspires others.  It would be an excellent tie-in to a cross-curricular unit with science (physics, energy, electricity) and/or social studies (history of Malawi, rural life in Africa, geography and weather, human-environmental interactions).

This Week’s Book Club Book!

Besides this amazing book, I have also been devouring our next book club selection.  Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan, has been really interesting, and really good!  The book follows several young men over the course of a weekend.  There are the two boys who are attempting to complete a world record longest kiss, their friends and family, and other teens in the area who are struggling with various aspects of their identity and relationships.

So far, it is AMAZING.  I even started a Padlet to house all the life lessons I am finding in this work.  Levithan is a prolific writer who states humanity’s truths in the lines of this work. More to come next week!…..

The Book I Want to Devour, But….

I’m also working on Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare.  Set in Victorian England, Tessa has stumbled upon a world filled with Shadowhunters who battle Downworlders (demons, vampires, etc.) underneath the nose of the Mundanes (regular humans).  She needs to find her brother Nate and fears something happened to him.

Tessa must discover who she is (she can turn herself into the physical bodies of other people – mostly dead), what her abilities mean, find (and save?) her brother, and attempt to understand a world she did not know existed.

I am really enjoying this book.  Here is my problem though – it is 500 pages and I feel like I am not making any progress!  Sure, I’ve read about 200 pages so far this week, not too shabby, but I am not sure that I am making the story go anywhere.  I love Clare’s imagery and the sense of wonder that Tessa explores the world with.  I really am just battling the mental wall of Am I ever going to finish this book?

I am determined to finish it for two reasons.

1. I really am enjoying it.  The people who have recommended it did a great job!

2. I have only ever, in my ENTIRE LIFE, left one book unfinished.  I think it is my book OCD that makes me finish them.  I know, Reader’s Rights tell us we can leave a book, but I just don’t want to!

Alright, what’s a girl to do?  How do you break through the mental wall of a “doorstop novel”?  What should I try to feel like I am making progress?  Let’s talk below…