Great Summer Reads! 

Click here for great reads!


Using Graphic Novels in the Classroom

Demystifying Graphic Novels–Article

This brief article discusses using graphic novels in the classroom as a bridge to literacy.

Graphic novels are more than a bridge though. They are significant both for students to learn about the genre and for their themes and value as literature.  My 11th-grade classes are currently reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.  This is my fourth year teaching this book and it’s one of my favorite units.

What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading This Month …

Reading Malcolm with my 12th graders, Raisin in the Sun with my 10th graders, wanting to re-read Their Eyes Were Watching God, and I couldn’t decide between Americanah and Angela Davis’s autobiography … so I’m reading both.

Can you tell my desk belongs to an English teacher? 🙂


9th Annual What Kids are Reading Report

Really interesting findings from the report and article:

Check out the article

  • Girls read an average of 3.7 million words between kindergarten and grade 12;
  • Boys read just over 3 million words on average — 23 percent less than girls;
  • Since the introduction of new academic standards, nonfiction reading has increased by less than 10 percent in the majority of states;
  • Nationwide, nonfiction materials represent less than one third of kids’ overall reading, despite recommendations that elementary and middle school students read 50 percent to 55 percent nonfiction, increasing to 70 percent by the end of high school;
  • STEM books represent less than 10 percent of all book reading; and
  • Only 19 percent of grade 12 students read books that surpass a grade 9 reading level.


Students who achieve, read.  What can we do to help students read more during a school day?

Book Review: All the Bright Places


When I was in third grade, I reluctantly picked up There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar and never put it down again.

boy-in-the-girlsBefore reading it, I had snickered at the title with my friends, wondering who would read such an ugly looking book with such an ugly title, but out of curiosity, I eventually started to read and was immediately pulled into the world of Bradley Chalker, the meanest boy in school.  After reading, I thought the cover, with girls screaming and a boy’s horrified face was misleading and disrespectful to this beautiful story of a boy struggling to be accepted and loved in the face of what even at a young age, I recognized as something much deeper than “the meanest boy in school.”  I didn’t have the words then, but it was clear that Bradley was struggling with some kind of mental illness.

In Jennifer Niven’s beautiful novel, All the Bright Places, Theodore Finch reminds me of Bradley all grown up.  We meet “Finch” with the opening words “Is today a good day to die?”  He is standing on standing on the ledge of the school bell tower contemplating his future until an unexpected savior, Violet Markey, contemplating her own future, helps him step down, thus beginning an unexpected friendship.

While Finch struggles with mental illness, Violet is struggling with her own demons.  Violet is known as “the girl whose sister died” after a tragic car accident that claimed the life of Eleanor Markey-Violet’s sister, writing partner and best friend.

Finch and Violet’s unlikely friendship grows as the two work on a school project together, discovering small town landmarks across the state of Indiana.

The book shifts first person narratives between Finch and Violet and the reader is easily enchanted by both voices.  In fact, using the two voices becomes a necessary part of the narrative to help us see both what it is like to live with mental illness and what it is like to love someone with mental illness.  As a reader, I was able to feel empathy for both parties and the shifting narrative furthered the importance of talking about this very real issue.

Another feature of the book is the supporting characters.  This is tricky in young adult writing where a settings often include high schools and an overwhelming number of characters have to be developed or given some voice.  The supporting characters in the book, from students to teachers to parents to siblings still have shape and voice.  The reader can picture them as integral parts of the plot and not just add-ons.  This also helps the reader easily navigate through the 383 pages of the book.

One of my favorite quotes from the book comes not necessarily from the main characters (although there are many of those as well) but it comes from Violet quoting Natalia Ginzburg: “It seemed to us that his sadness was that of a boy, the voluptuous heedless melancholy of a boy who has still not come down to earth, and moves in the arid, solitary world of dreams.”  Halfway through the book, Finch, our voluptuous heedless melancholy of a boy, is able to give a name to his mental illness: Bipolar Disorder.  

Louis Sachar’s Bradley never got a label beyond that of the meanest boy in school, but he deserved so much more than that.  Bradley deserved love, recognition and help; even a third grader knew that.  Hopefully the more we talk about and read about the nature of mental illness, the more the stigmas will disintegrate and the more we can provide help and support for those who need it most.  

Article: Exploring the influence of reading for pleasure on African American high school students’ reading achievement

Students who read become better writers, thinkers and citizens.  We need time in schools for students to read and systems that support reading at home.  Very interesting study–check it out

Source: General OneFile – Document – Exploring the influence of reading for pleasure on African American high school students’ reading achievement

Throwback Thursday: Review of Baby-Sitters on Board! by Ann M. Martin

A cruise ship.  The Bahamas.  Disney.  Extremely detailed descriptions of Claudia Kishi’s elaborate outfits.

Ann M. Martin.  The woman knew how to sell books to 1980s tweens.

I cannot forget how excited my friends and I were when this book came out.  Before websites and Youtube channels dedicated to following the every minute detail of a topic, the girls of Mrs. Sommer’s 3rd/4th grade class learned of this book (whose title has an exclamation point in it!) when one  girl came in with her copy that she had come across at the bookstore.  It was thick.  It was the first BSC book to tell switch narratives from chapter to chapter and we were getting to hear chapters through Mallory Pike (before she joined the club and had her own book), Byron Pike and Karen Brewer (before the Little Sister series).  And they were going on a cruise.  And to Disney World.  It was the must read of the book of Central Elementary School.

My parents never saved up and carefully planned out the all-American Disney World trip.  My dad, the history buff, orchestrated a trip to Washington, DC instead, so I vicariously lived through the adventures of Kristy and the gang through this book, staring longingly at the cover so many times that I am pretty sure that one of the staples of my elementary school wardrobe: shorts with sweaters, was inspired by who I think is Dawn in the middle of the cover in her white shorts and white sweater.

All these years later, I have thankfully given up the sweater/shorts combo, but as I re-read, I realized I must have read this book so many times because the plot, some of the lines, came back so familiarly and I quickly got caught up in the story of the girls from Stoneybrook and their first Super Special.

The plot: Mr. Pike wins some contest at work and the prize is an all-expenses paid trip for him and his family to the Bahamas and Disney World.  I am sure after Mr. Pike won, the owner of the company was like, what?  He has 8 kids?  Seriously? Who’s dumb idea was this contest? Anyway, the Pikes invite Stacy and Mary Anne to come along to help them with the kids, since they also accompanied the Pikes on the trip to Sea City (Book #8).  Watson, Kristy’s millionaire stepfather, hears about this and decides to take the family along and of course, he has to invite Claudia and Dawn, because this is no babysitter left behind, and the adventure begins.

This is still a sweet, innocent book that should appeal to young girls even today.  It is a series that I will be excited to pass on to my daughter.  I just hope that today’s fourth graders are not so jaded and still innocent enough to find this as amazing as we did.

As an adult though, I get to be a little jaded–so here’s my take on some things a little later in life when I am not as in awe of the awesomeness of going to Disney World…

Kristy-okay, the storyline of her making friends with an old man who lost his wife is kind of sweet, but the slob story line?  We get it, Ann M. Martin.  Kristy is messy.  But purposely throwing wrappers on the floor, refusing to wipe off a milk mustache–a little too passive aggressive.  Although when they get to the hotel at Disney and Kristy gets excited about all the free stuff in the hotel room, this image has always stuck with me, and to this day whenever I stay in a hotel and look at the little collection of soaps and lotions in the hotel room, I think, great free stuff! just like the Baby Sitter’s Club.

Maryanne–kind of giving me the Gene/Finny/Separate Peace vibe with her strangely detailed and glowing descriptions of Alexandra Carmody’s body.  Hmm…

Claudia-her story has her trying to find the identity of a secret admirer who keeps leaving her little gifts, paying for her food, etc.  Okay, a little stalker-ish, but this was my favorite story line as a kid, still my favorite story line.  Love Claudia Kishi.

Mallory-after reading Harriet the Spy, Mallory decides to spy on people and keep a notebook of all their activities.  Okay, I did the same thing.  In second grade.  Since in two books Mallory is going to be able to be baby sitting and join the club, isn’t she a little old for this?  I think this would have been a more appropriate storyline for younger Pike sibling, would-be poet, Vanessa.  And I might have enjoyed reading it more.  Mallory = least favorite BSC member ever.  I actually enjoyed BSC #14 when the girls more or less bullied her with that b.s. baby-sitting test they gave her.  Plus, the Pikes let Mallory go off on her own at Disney World.  I know the late 1980s might have been a more innocent time, but who says to an 11-year-old, yeah, sure, go through Disney World on your own?  I am a huge introvert and even I can not think of anything more depressing than going to Disney on your own at 11 years old.  Maybe with all those kids the Pikes were just hoping for one of them to get abducted–might be why they let those triplets go off on on their own so much too.

Karen-The HBIC of Stoneybrook charges a manicure and a snack to her room without asking permission, lies to get a breakfast with the Disney characters, and does what Karen does best-bosses her way through her chapters.  I imagine that Karen grew up to steal Kristy’s Great Idea and modernize it for the Internet age, starting  Shannon Kilbourne was one of the early investors.   Kristy is always calling the office or cornering Karen at the few family holidays she attends and says things like, “That was my idea, Karen, my great idea.  Cut me in on this.”  and Karen has to cuss out her secretary, Hannie, for putting Kristy’s calls through.

At the rate kids are going today, my daughter will probably be cynical enough at 12 for me to discuss these ideas with her and hear her sarcastic views as well, but when she is eight or nine years old, I hope she is still innocent enough to get lost in the adventures of The BSC gang (and smart enough to already realize Mallory is weird).