It’s Monday! What are you reading? #IMWAYR 11/17/14


It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys and invites bloggers to recap what they’ve read this week while planning ahead on what to read next! Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers added their own twist by focusing on kidlit, from picture books up to YA.

Click on the covers for an in depth synopsis and others’ reviews


Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King

Contemporary High YA Fantasy, 2014
320 Pages
My Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars
A.S. King is one of my favorite YA authors and while I liked Glory O’Brien’s story, the plot was a little weird for me. It definitely has a Grasshopper Jungle vibe to it, so if you were in to that book, you’ll like this too. If you have never read any of King’s books, I highly recommend Please Ignore Vera Deitz, Everybody Sees the Ants, and Ask the Passengers. All are excellent!

the girl who

The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die by April Henry

YA Mystery, 2013
213 Pages
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
The first chapter of this book will grab you and not let go. The main character has no idea where she is, who she is, or why her captors want to kill her. Cue the craziness! This book has major teen reader appeal and fans of Henry’s Girl Stolen will like this one too. The “twist” three fourths of the way through was a little “meh” for my taste, but I know this book will be a hit in my classroom for sure.

brown girl dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming  by Jacqueline Woodson

Memoir written in verse, 2014
336 Pages
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
WOW WOW WOW! This book is amazing. It’s the kind of book that deserves a second or third read immediately after you finish the first. Woodson shares the story of her childhood and takes us from Ohio to South Carolina to New York City. She shares story after story about her unique and loyal family members, growing up in the South, her early struggles with reading and the deep desire to be a writer. Definitely one of my top 3 books of 2014!

I also read some picture books this week that I’ve heard about online and requested from my library. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole was definitely my favorite and one of my nephews will definitely be getting a copy for Christmas.

tough boris

nesting bird


sam and dave

What are you reading this week? I’m always looking for new books, so please share what’s in your stacks in the comments. Have a great week of reading, Literacy Lovers!

Sacred Writing Time With a Twist


writers (1)

I am a big believer in having my students write every day. Every. Single. Day. No matter what’s going on, we always make time for writing in our notebooks. At the start the year, we organized our notebooks into specific sections, made Heart Maps that captured future writing ideas, and decorated the outside of our notebooks with 5 Word Memoirs. Every month we use Corbett Harrison’s Sacred Writing Time Bingo Cards and students have a plethora of choices to pick from during writing time. I always promote student choice, but the cards are safety blankets that students can always use if they wish. Since we have been using the cards for a few months, there is now a noticeable excitement around the room when I pass them out, as students check out their options. We immediately go through each column and students star the ones they are interested in and jot down ideas in the boxes too. Hurray for writing routines!

Last week I decided to switch things up, and try something new. I chose the first chapter of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die by April Henry as our mentor text and distributed copies of it to students. Recently having started this book myself, I was enjoying it because it is one of those books that grabs you from page 1. The first chapter starts with the female main character in a very desperate situation. She wakes up after possibly being drugged, has no idea who or where she is, or an answer to the biggest question, why there are two men trying to kill her. Major teen reader appeal!

The title of chapter one is “Day 1, 4:51 PM and when we finished reading the 4 pages, I asked students “What did you notice?” and we proceeded to discuss several things that stood out:

  • The title is very specific – Day 1, 4:51 PM. “This is an important detail. It was obviously done on purpose.”
  • The beginning sentences are noticeably short and get longer as the main character wakes up and adjusts to her surroundings. “Cool idea. It makes you want to keep reading because so many things happen so fast at the very beginning!”
  • The chapter ends with a MAJOR cliffhanger. “Wait! What happens next? We can’t just stop!”

Talk about insightful observations! Of course students wanted me to continue reading to find out what happens next, but I told them that it was now up to them to decide what happens. I threw out some directions – “Start the story 5 minutes, 5 hours or 1 day later and show what happens. Use suspense and descriptive details just like the author did. Go!” Students did some of their best writing of the year and after 20 minutes had gone by, hands shot up all over the place because they all wanted to share their stories. Proud teacher moment, let me tell you!

For the next week, the majority of my students continued their stories on and off during Sacred Writing Time and that is the proof that it was as successful lesson! A pro tip teacher bonus – I also had a drawing to see who got to check out the book first.

When writing activities come together as seamlessly as this one and students have FUN while working hard on pieces they are proud of – it builds community, writing skills, and an awesome story to tell all of you!

Happy writing, everyone!

♥  Lesley


It’s Monday! What are you reading? #IMWAYR 11/2/14


 It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys and invites bloggers to recap what they’ve read this week while planning ahead on what to read next! Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers added their own twist by focusing on kidlit, from picture books up to YA.


Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate

 Picture Book, 2014
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
The One and Only Ivan is my favorite book. This picture book tells the story of how Ivan made it to the mall in Tacoma, Washington and eventually to Zoo Atlanta. It is fantastic and the note at the end from one of Ivan’s favorite zoo keepers made me tear up. Such a special story. I look forward to reading Ivan’s story to my students every year.

chasing brooklyn

Chasing Brooklyn by Lisa Schroeder

YA Mystery, 2010
My Rating: 5/5 Stars
This is one of Schroeder’s longest novels in verse and it is very hard to put down. I enjoyed the two differing perspectives and the characters Nico and Brooklyn were interesting to follow. A sad story about loss and grieving. I would really like to add this one to my classroom library.

Blogging Adventures in Room 213 – Part 1, Getting Started is Half the Battle

or sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing


To blog or not to blog?

When I started this page a year and a half-ish ago, I’d always dreamed of having my students start blogging too. But how exactly to make that happen was a little intimidating. I talked myself out of it over and over again, telling myself it would be too much work up front, and too much to manage and keep track of, while all along, there was a tiny teacher voice in my head chanting “Do it! Do it!” You hear that nagging voice from time to time, too, I’m sure. Continually watching several teachers rave on Twitter about their students blogging was a constant reminder that I should just take the student blogging plunge. Still, I waited.

Fast forward to this past August, when I attended #edcampILECbus and sat in a session all about Kidblog, an online blogging platform designed for students and class blogs. I watched in amazement as the facilitators showed off former students’ blogs, some even from 1st graders who were clearly doing amazing work. OK, message received. I vowed to sign up for a Kidblog account and give it a try.

Why blogging?

Blogging has “cool factor” and teens are very intrigued by the idea of creating their own little corner of blogosphere. Some already have Tumblr pages so they were a little less wide eyed, but still pumped that they were now the “experts” in the room. Blogging wasn’t a tough sell, I can tell you that. From day one I kept dropping little hints about starting blogs and they had a ton of questions for me. Questions are some of the highest compliments students can give. It means they’re interested. Really interested.

I want my students to write with an authentic audience in mind. We write in our Writers’ Notebooks “on the daily” as they like to point out, but they don’t publish the majority of these shorter pieces. If their work is out there for the world to see, it is a whole different ballgame. A magnificent ballgame where i’s are capitalized, and spelling and punctuation are checked twice.

Ready, set, stop?

After setting up Kidblog accounts and passwords for my two classes – one an 8th grade inclusion ELA class, and the other a 9th grade English class for advanced 8th graders – I ran into a big bump in the road. While every student in my advanced class has computer and internet access outside of school, only about 1/3 of students in my other class do, and this class is notorious for not taking advantage of lunch and time after school for assignments. Because I don’t have a classroom set of computers, (though one can dream about it. Every.Single.Day.) I knew that some blogging would have to be completed outside of class. I have access to Chromebook carts and computer labs in my building, but once PARCC testing starts I will be lucky to get on my OWN computer during the day. While I wanted to keep high expectations for my students, the reality of requiring students to blog outside of school would probably be a big flop with one of the two classes. Time to reevaluate my plan and rethink this whole thing.

After much thought, I decided that I didn’t want to wait. Let’s do it, tiny teacher voice in my head! My new plan was this – I would start blogging with my 9th grade class and work out all the bugs with them and then bring my other class onboard slowly. If I could sell blogging to class number 1, they could help advertise it to class number 2. [Insert evil English teacher laugh here] Finally, it was time to launch blogging!

We’re officially bloggers!

We’ve been blogging for about a month now in class number 1, and while there have been bumps and pot holes along the way, it has been a welcomed addition to our classroom routines and rituals. My end goal is that after a month or two of everything running smoothly for the first class, class number 2 will soon beg to blog inside *and* outside of class and also want to stay in at lunch and after school. We’ll see how it goes.

In Part 2 of this ongoing series, I’ll talk about students’ first experiences with learning about blogs, and posting and commenting. Stay tuned, literacy lovers. We’re getting to the good part!

♥ Lesley







It’s Monday! What are you reading? #IMWAYR 10/27/14



It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys and invites bloggers to recap what they’ve read this week while planning ahead on what to read next! Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers added their own twist by focusing on kidlit, from picture books up to YA.

Here’s what I’ve read lately:

(Click on the covers to read a book’s synopsis and others’ reviews)



 Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth

Dystopian, 2014
208 Pages
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Divergent was my first dystopian book and it has a special place in my heart. I was lucky enough to get a copy signed by Veronica Roth at NCTE12 and to me she is the epitome of a cool writer. Reading Divergent scenes from Four’s point of view was interesting and entertaining. What a complex character! I like the books from the trilogy series better, but enjoyed how this title filled in gaps, especially regarding Four’s relationship with each of his parents.

blood of my blood

Blood of My Blood (Jasper Dent #3) by Barry Lyga

YA Mystery/Thriller, 2014
464 Pages
My Rating 4/5 Stars
The Jasper Dent series has given me more nightmares that I’d like to admit. I am not a fan of *anything* scary, but these books are so well written that I couldn’t resist devouring them. #3 is particularly twisted and has one of the most memorable endings that I’ve ever read. Just thinking about it seriously creeps me out. Jasper Dent is a true YA hero and surely will find his way to the screen someday soon.

Ill give you the sun

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

YA Contemporary Fiction, 2014

My Rating 5/5 Stars
Listen up, everyone – this is the BEST BOOK I HAVE READ IN 2014. It is fantastic! The main characters, Jude and Noah, are inseparable twins, with a somewhat magically connection, that end up broken and lost after a tragic event rocks their family to the core. Over the course of chapters from both twins’ point of views, the book is filled with amazing characters, sub plots and the setting is described so beautifully. This is a story about love, loss and growing up. I have read online that there is already a script written for the movie version of this book, and I think Rainbow Rowell, John Green and David Levithan fans will fill theaters for this one. This book is all of these authors rolled into one. I love Jandy Nelson’s work – The Sky is Everywhere – is also amazing. Highly suggest you check these titles out.

far from you

Far From You by Lisa Schroeder

YA Contemporary Fiction written in verse, 2008
355 Pages
My Rating: 4/5 Stars
Lisa Schroeder’s novels in verse are always great additions to my classroom library. They are popular for readers of all backgrounds and interests. I like novels in verse because I find the writer’s decision making process fascinating. Intentionally having two lines on a page vs. a much longer section for impact is a valuable lesson for student writers. Alice’s mother has died from cancer, and her relationship with her dad and step mother is strained. She finds solace when she is with her boyfriend and friend, but even those relationships start disintegrating. Alice has a hard time getting over her mother’s death and starts retreating into herself and it takes an almost deadly predicament for her to come around. I Heart You, You Haunt Me is still my favorite title from Schroeder, but this one is pretty good, too.

famous last words

Famous Last Words by Katie Alender

YA Mystery, 2014
320 Pages
My Rating 4/5 Pages
Katie Alender’s Bad Girls Don’t Die series and Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer are great mystery reads and I really enjoyed Famous Last Words too. It was a little predictable near the end, but creepy enough to hold my attention. Out of all of her books, Marie Antoinette… is my favorite. Alender definitely has a genre that she writes very well. Middle School readers will devour these books.

It’s Monday! What are you reading? #IMWAYR 9/29/14


We are a month into the new school year and wow, is it going fast! I’m still catching up on my 2014 Goodreads goal of 140 books and I am behind for sure!

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys and invites bloggers to recap what they’ve read this week while planning ahead on what to read next! Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers added their own twist by focusing on kidlit, from picture books up to YA.

Here’s what I’ve read lately:

(Click on the covers to read a book’s synopsis and reviews)


killer instinct

Killer Instinct (The Naturals #2) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

YA Mystery, Expected release date 11/4/14

My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

This is the 2nd book in The Naturals series and it starts right where #1 ends. The Naturals are a group of misfit teens with incredible talents and are used in a secret FBI project to solve crimes that no one else can. While this book is centered around Dean and his super creepy father, the main character, Cassie, is still dealing with trauma and feelings from events in book 1. I love the characters in this book and feel that this series is set up so well for a successful teen CSI type psychological thriller TV show that I would not be surprised if it happens sometime soon!

upside down

           Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana

     Middle Grade Historical Fiction, 2014

   My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

This book takes place in the Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans before, during and after Hurricane Katrina. Armani Curtis and her family are celebrating her 10th birthday on the day the devastating hurricane changes their lives forever. This book is long at 320 pages, but would make an excellent read aloud if you have the time. I had to read it in sections because of the lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away. I participated in a mission trip to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and helped rebuild a house. While there, we toured the city, including the Ninth Ward. This book really resonated with me. Beautiful writing and a very sweet main character that will stick with you!

bronx masquerade

 Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes YA

Realistic Fiction, 2001

My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 stars

This award winning novel is centered around a poetry slam and gives readers a glimpse at the lives of 18 different teenage writers in a Bronx High School. The poems are gritty, heart wrenching and most often, heartwarming. I loved the poetry aspect of this novel, but did find the multiple points of view hard to keep up with. It was challenging to follow all of the sub plots and keep everyone straight. I did appreciate that after each poem there was commentary from Tyrone, who moves the story along with his thoughts and updates about how this group of teenagers is transforming while sharing their writing with each other. This book would be a great addition to a poetry unit with older readers and writers about finding your voice.

geography of you and me

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

YA Realistic Fiction, 2014

My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fans of Smith’s other books, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and This is What Happy Looks Like, will not be disappointed with her newest title. Set in New York, and a plethora of other places, this is a sweet look at two teenagers who meet each other in the middle of a sweltering summer blackout in NYC. I did enjoy the first two books more, but this one will definitely be as popular as the others with young readers. I also just found out the The Statistical Probability… has been picked up and optioned for a movie. This would be interesting to see on the big screen!

It’s Monday! What are you reading? #IMWAYR 9/8/14


We are starting our 3rd week of school, and let me tell you, I have some readers this year! We have set up our interactive notebooks, talked about the 40 Book Challenge, and most classes are reading 20 minutes a day already. I’ve managed to read a little bit too, and hopefully I can catch up on my Goodreads goal by the end of the month.

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys and invites bloggers to recap what they’ve read this week while planning ahead on what to read next! Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers added their own twist by focusing on kidlit, from picture books up to YA.

 Here’s what I’ve read lately:

(Click on the covers to read a book’s synopsis and reviews)


Nest by Esther Ehrich

Historical Fiction, Release Date: 9/9/14
336 pages
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 stars
Nest is one of those books that is hard to put down. The main character, Chirp, has such an unforgettable voice – she’s vulnerable, sassy, wise and unsure all at the same time. While Chirp is an expert on birds and loves to watch and observe them, she is still very much figuring things out at home and school. After a family tragedy, life gets very hard for Chirp and she becomes a shell of her vibrant self. It takes an adventure and a lot of understanding to come back to where she belongs. I loved the 1970′s music and culture references throughout and the themes of family, friendship and love are very strong. Beautiful book!

payback time

Payback Time by Carl Deuker

Realistic Fiction/Sports, 2010
304 pages
My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
This is my first read by this author. I picked it up at a book sale, while crossing my fingers that it would be a good fit in my middle school classroom. I was super excited that 1. it takes place in Seattle, which is my favorite city, and 2. it is a great book that will be an excellent addition to my classroom library. Mitch is an overweight sports reporter for his high school and he and Kimi, the photographer assigned to work with him, stumble upon a football mystery while working their senior year. Mitch and Kimi are excellent students with bright futures, and find themselves way over their heads as they unravel a story of ineligible players, cheating coaches, and a state title on the line. Fans of Mike Lupica and John Feinstein sports books will like this one, too.


Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey by Nick Bertozzi

Historical Fiction Graphic Novel, 2014
128 Pages
My Goodreads Rating: 3/5 Stars
I plan on doing a quarter long unit with my seventh and eighth grade students in my reading intervention class that centers around explorers, and specifically Sir Ernest Shackleton, the great Antarctic explorer. Shackleton is a fascinating person to read about! While I am not sure this is the best book for my students, it does have some very cool layouts of the ships and some interesting maps. Bertozzi also has a similar book on Lewis and Clark that is probably worth checking out.

Happy Reading, everyone!

Lesley ♥