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Who doesn’t love The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie? The book is incredible, thought-provoking, and complex. This year, my college students are reading it, and we plan to explore identity as it pertains to the novel. I wanted to generate critical, innovative teaching ideas for the book. It was my goal that students would have fun exploring the text while also thinking deeply about it. I would love for others to share what they’ve done with this book!

A few ideas/strategies:

1. Ask students to draw themselves as split between identities. 

This idea feels a bit obvious, but it really allows students to connect the concepts of the text with their own lives.

2. As a class, discuss racial melancholia. 

Racial melancholia is a mourning or a psychological haunting that might result from a feeling of estrangement from American mainstream “whiteness.” Scholars show that individuals describe (or are unconscious of) their realization that fully assimilating is impossible, given aspects like physical appearance. Essentially, these individuals experience a profound sense of dejection as they realize they may always be perceived as the Other. There is a lot of scholarship that analyzes racial melancholia in Asian Americans, and students might read some of these articles and consider how Junior and Rowdy may be experiencing racial melancholia.

3. Discuss reservations today.

Show articles about reservations today. Consider whether they may not be sacred places for some—as they are essentially sites of cultural genocide.

4. Research reservation schools today.

Ask students to research reservation schools today. This article is particularly relevant to the text.

5. Consider the hero’s journey.

A quick Google Images search generates some great diagrams. Have students study and critique the diagrams and consider whether this journey is present or absent in Alexie’s text. They might consider how the journey is relevant to both Junior and Rowdy.

6. Watch videos that feature Sherman Alexie. 

There are many videos on youtube that feature Sherman Alexie. His words are very powerful, and he discusses the realities that face Native Americans today. Here’s one of my favorites:


7. Some discussion questions and considerations about tribal identity

  • What bothered you in the book?
  • Where did you struggle to understand the perspectives within the text?
  • Can discomfort or anger increase our understanding or meaning?
  • Does Junior’s tribal identity help or hurt him?
  • What must Junior do to further his education and imagine possibilities for the adulthood that he doesn’t see on the reservation? Join the historical oppressors.
  • Is it possible to leave the sadness of your home and not betray who you are?


I’d love to hear from you! What have you done to enrich your understanding of this text?

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The first week of school is scary for all students. And boring. It is filled with syllabus review and lunch room rules. I want my students’ first day to be filled with friendliness. This year, to do this I started the year with telling my students about me. I have a philosophy that if students see you as a human, they are more likely to respect you and your class. After sharing about me, my family, my history, and my life, we played a fun game of Kahoot about me.

On day one, I wanted to make my expectations clear: I want you to do your best all year. That’s all I ask. To start this conversation, I showed them one of my favorite TED Talks: “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist who studies grit in many different aspects. When finished with the TED Talk, I asked each class, “Why would I show you this on day one?” One of my 6th grade girls said it the best, “You showed it to us because you want us to do our best all year because effort and wanting to grow is really important.” Our district has been focusing on growth mindset in students and teachers, and the idea of grit fits this goal.

Finally, I also introduced my students to the idea of OneWord365–that instead of setting unrealistic and too many goals, pick a word that summarizes the path they want the year to take. Most of the students’ choices included words that fit the growth mindset. Once each student had turned in their word to me, we then picked One Word for each class that embodied everyone’s word. Our words are: determination, try, and happiness.

Sidenote: I did this activity on our first day of preplanning with my entire staff, and I only got positive feedback about it. Each teacher came up their own One Word then as a PLC (professional learning community) they came up with a summarizing word and a visual representation.


Tuesday was Code of Conduct and Syllabus day, so it was a bit boring; however, I fancied up my syllabus this year, so it was a bit more fun to look at:

I redid my rules this year to be called “Expectations” and to be short, sweet, and what I really see as important in humans:

  • Be kind
  • Be respectful
  • Be responsible
  • Do your best


Wednesday was all about getting to know my students. Each year I have my students fill out an interesting and reading survey to help me get to know them. Wednesday was also BOOK DAY! Students were so excited to be able to dive into my classroom library. As students looked for books and filled out their survey, I went around to help with book selection and make discussion.


Each year in the first week, I make sure to read Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson to my students. With looping students, I try not to duplicate from year to year, but this is a text that I read at the beginning of the school year no matter what. Why? Because it uses Chloe’s tough lesson of not being kind to Maia to teach us about the power of kindness ripples and how they can affect the universe.

When we finished the book, I point out that Chloe wasn’t “bad” nor a “bully” but what she did by excluding Maia was devastating. I asked them to think about something in their life that they could do just a bit kinder: either broad like smiling at strangers more or specific like being nicer to a certain person. They then set kindness goals for the year which I’ll post for the entire year.


Friday it was once again about getting to know my students. I introduced them to the idea of six-word memoirs. First, we talked about Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story (“For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn”) and the power of his six words and how Smith Magazine took the idea and turned it into people writing their memoir in six words.

To help them understand the idea, I showed them the Six Magazine You Tube video with teens’ six-word memoirs:

And I shared fiction characters’ six-word memoirs:

  • Cinderella: Sometimes the shoes you pick matter OR Sometimes fairy godmothers do show up.
  • Simba: Don’t believe an uncle with scars.
  • Alice: Down the rabbit hole yet again.
  • Romeo: Loving someone may very much kill

Then I gave them Smith Magazine’s six tips for writing a six-word memoir:

  1. It only works if it is personal.
  2. Limitations force you to be creative.
  3. Get inspired by reading other memoirs.
  4. Like any story, make revisions.
  5. Put the best six words in the best order.
  6. Publish your story to inspire others. (Though I made it clear this was optional)

And I sent them on their way, and the response has been phenomenal (shared only those with permission given):

  • Fear is my greatest enemy, always. -Amy, 6th grade
  • I fear an average human life. -Anonymous, 6th grade
  • Books are portals, go through them. -Anonymous, 6th grade
  • Music–the best thing that happened. -Anonymous, 6th grade
  • Sibling always wanted. Five years old. -Anonymous, 6th grade
  • Hospital. Diagnosed. Kept on living great. -Daniel, 6th grade
  • If you believe, you can succeed.” -Ian, 6th grade
  • Face what scares you most. -Lorenza, 7th grade
  • The great outdoors is my indoors. -Alexandra, 7th grade
  • Life is like a hard dream. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • Who I am is not clear. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • You can die happy or unhappy. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • Hufflepuff isn’t the same without me. -Vanessa, 7th grade
  • Family means nobody gets left behind. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • I said it was impossible. “Nevermind.” -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • Stop being worried and live life. -Anonymous, 7th grade
  • Why do people tell unnecessary lies? -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Why do girls create unnecessary drama? -Emily, 8th grade
  • Don’t think twice, or never achieve. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Fake smiles, fake laugh, real tears. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • It is not just a game. -Christian, 8th grade
  • 2009: Plane ticket–Egypt to America. -Clara, 8th grade
  • Your separation made everything more difficult. -Amanda, 8th grade
  • See you later, Island of Enchantment. -Lucas, 8th grade
  • Dancing is how I express myself. -Ashley, 8th grade
  • Parents can never stick together forever. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Try your best; get better results. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Divorce can break a child’s heart. -Anonymous, 8th grade
  • Prepared to succeed; failed of hesitation. -Anonymous, 8th grade

It is through these activities that I show my students that I care for them. 

What do you do your first week of school?

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Colorado State University

Dr. Ricki Ginsberg


This course focuses on adolescence and the reading, analysis, and understanding of young adult literature. Some of the themes we will explore include: the body and mind, culture, (dis)ability, gender, grief, intersectionality, race, sexuality, and social class. Because the course is designed primarily for future English teachers to prepare them to examine issues of adolescents/ce, we will also consider supportive practices for teaching young adult texts critically in the classroom. This course will allow us the time and space to (re)consider our perspectives of adolescence. The reading and coursework is designed to be both rigorous but rewarding.


Required, Whole Class Texts:

Alexie, S. (2007). The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian. New York, NY: Little, Brown.

Farizan, S. (2013). If you could be mine. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin.

Nelson, J. (2014). I’ll give you the sun. New York, NY: Speak.

Roskos, E. (2013). Dr. Bird’s advice for sad poets. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Saenz, B. A. (2012). Aristotle and Dante discover the secrets of the universe. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Schrefer, E. (2012). Endangered. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Sepetys, R. (2011). Between shades of gray. New York, NY: Speak.

Shusterman, N. (2007). Unwind. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Thomas, A. (2017). The hate u give. New York, NY: Balzer + Bray.

Woodson, J. (2014). Brown girl dreaming. New York, NY: Nancy Paulsen.

Yang, G. L. (2006). American born Chinese. New York, NY: First Second.

Zentner, J. (2016). The serpent king. New York, NY: Ember.

Literature Circle Group Text (Disability and the Body):

You will select this text during the first week.

Anderson, L. H. (2009). Wintergirls. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Draper, S. (2010). Out of my mind. New York, NY: Atheneum.

Van Draanen, W. (2011). The running dream. New York, NY: Ember.

Palacio, R. J. (2012). Wonder. New York, NY: Knopf.

Gemeinhart, D. (2015). The honest truth. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Stork, F. X. (2008). Marcelo in the real world. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Lindstrom, E. (2015). Not if I see you first. New York, NY: Poppy.

Sloan, H. G. (2013). Counting by 7s. New York, NY: Puffin.



  1. Analyze and critique a wide range of adolescents’ literature across genre and form (as evidenced in the reading portfolio, classroom discussions, and Book Bistro conversations).
  2. Examine research and theories of adolescence through a range of scholarly sources and (re)consider our own assumptions (as evidenced in the discussion of the Youth Lens and in the Scholarly Journal Article critique).
  3. Evaluate the purpose of literature that is written explicitly for adolescents and the value of using this literature for classroom instruction (as evidenced in each course requirement, particularly the Leading a Class Discussion assignment).
  4. Explore the ways in which adolescents’ literature can be highly political in nature (as evidenced in the selected required texts and the focused discussions and classroom activities in weeks 14 and 15).


The outside work for this course adheres to the instructional time equivalent to the federal credit hour definition of 2 hours of outside work for each contact hour. As such, you can expect to do approximately 5 hours of outside work each week. Much of this time will be dedicated to the course reading (required and free choice). I will not accept assignments after they are due. Please wait 24 hours to dispute a grade.

1.   Free Choice Reading Portfolio (25%)

You will be required to read a total of 3,000 pages of books written for and about adolescents.

The portfolio will reflect this work and must include:

  • A cover sheet listing the books and total number of pages that you read. If you prefer to keep track by hand, feel free to print the book log available on Canvas. At the bottom of your cover sheet, please include a signed honor statement that indicates that you read all of the pages that you list on this page.
  • A one-pager for each of the books that you read. Examples of one-pagers will be provided in class. The only requirement is that the one-pager must fit on one side of a piece of paper. Please complete these one-pagers as you read. You will be showing them to your peers during Book Bistro meetings.

Selecting texts:

  • Select texts from a variety of authors, forms, genres, subjects, and marketed age levels. Do not read over 1,000 pages of the same author, genre, or form.
  • Do not read a classic text unless it was expressly written for adolescents. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye were written for adults, but The Chocolate War and The Contender were written for adolescents. Check with me if you are unsure whether a text is traditionally considered to be a YA text.
  • Do not read books that were written for adults (Crichton, Grisham, King, Steele, etc.). You may, however, read books that are very popular, free choices among adolescents (e.g. Books on the Alex Awards lists).
  • Consult adolescents, librarians, the adolescent literature collections at the Morgan Library and 322 Eddy, ALA Award lists, and other published listings of texts. The Fort Collins libraries have great collections. Ask your peers what they are enjoying, and share books with each other. I will make ever attempt to flood you with books that you might be interested in reading, and I will bring a rolling classroom library to most classes.
  • ENJOY what you are reading. I typically use a 50-page rule. If I am not enjoying a book after 50 pages, I put it down. Please use whatever system works for you and keeps you reading. You can (and should) count the pages of unfinished books toward the 3,000-page requirement.

2. Class Participation (20%)

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of your participation in class. You are expected to read the entire required texts before you come to class. I am not a fan of reading quizzes, but I need to know that you are doing your homework. As such, you will complete a reading quiz at the beginning of many classes. If you are late or absent, you will miss this assignment for the week. Your literature circle presentation will also be included in this grade.

3. Leading a Class Discussion (in pairs) (15%)

You will sign up with a peer to lead an hour-long discussion of one of the required texts. You and your peer can decide how to structure the class time and activities. You do not need to focus your discussion on the weekly topic listed in the schedule. The only requirements are: a) you will give a 5-minute reading quiz at the beginning of the hour, and b) you will lead a discussion of the reading for some portion of the time. You and your peer will grade the reading quizzes and return them to me the following class.

 4. Book Bistro Participation (10%)

You will participate in five scheduled Book Bistro meetings. You will be in charge of leading one of these meetings and inspiring conversation around the books that the members in your group are reading. You will sign up to lead the meeting in the beginning of the semester.

5. Scholarly Journal Article Critique (in pairs) (10%)

Working in pairs, you will read and critique a scholarly journal article about young adult literature or adolescence. I will help find this article. You will present your findings, complete with a handout, to the class. Your presentation should last between five and ten minutes and can include discussion.

6. Final Exam (20%)

You will design a project for the final exam that meets your personal and professional needs and passions. I will provide suggestions from previous courses that I have taught, but I recommend that you design a project that you will find exciting. We will dedicate some class time to help you determine, workshop, and independently work on this project, but you will complete most of the work outside of class. You will present your project during the university-sanctioned final exam time. The exam is scheduled for Monday, December 11, from 4:10pm-6:10pm.

7. Graduate Students Only (10%, overall grade calculated out of 110%)

In an effort to help you organize and synthesize your thinking about your Master’s thesis or project, you can choose to write five annotated bibliography entries (choose a combination of the require texts—novels and articles—for this course plus texts of your own choosing.


You can design a similar project tailored to your needs. Please see me early in the semester to discuss this course requirement and to solidify your choice. This work is due to me on December 3, 2017.

 8. Honors Credit Only (10%, overall grade calculated out of 110%)

Those who seek honors credit will be required to read five advanced reader copies (galleys) of texts within (not in addition to) their 3,000 page required. They will complete five book reviews in the form of blog posts. If these students choose, I can publish these blog posts on, and this work can be featured as publications on their resumes. Please see me if you are seeking honors credit.

 Grade Overview

  1. Free Choice Reading Portfolio (25%)
  2. Class Participation (20%)
  3. Leading a Class Discussion (in pairs) (15%)
  4. Book Bistro Participation (10%)
  5. Scholarly Journal Article Critique (in pairs) (10%)
  6. Final Exam (20%)

As per University policy, I use +/- grading. Calculations on a 4.0 scale are:  A+ = 4.0; A = 4.0; A- = 3.667; B+ = 3.334; B = 3.00; B- = 2.667; C+ = 2.334; C = 2.00; D = 1.00; F = 0.00



Attendance Policy

Attendance is critical for your success in this course. I expect you to be punctual. Absences beyond two per semester will result in a grade deduction of ½ grade, as this is equivalent to over a week of missed classes. For instance, if you earn an A in the course but miss three class sessions, your grade will reduce to an A-. You will also miss reading quizzes, which will impact your grade. Please see me with any concerns about your attendance. Excused absences will not count against your grade, and these will include participation in University-sanctioned activities, as well as participation in religious holidays and observances. If you will be absent for an excused reason, please see me in advance of class or email me at least one day in advance.

It is respectful to email me prior to class if you will be absent. This will help me (and your peers who are presenting) adjust class plans and groups accordingly. Please do not sign up to present on a day that you anticipate you will be absent for an excused purpose.

Academic Integrity and Student Conduct

The course will adhere to the Academic Integrity Policy of the Colorado State University General Catalog and the Student Conduct Code. Do not plagiarize. Any student who plagiarizes or cheats on any assignment in this course faces penalties that may include an F on the assignment or an F in the course.

Cell Phones and Computers

Please remember to turn off your cell phone before coming into class. That means no text messaging during class. Please be respectful about your computer use and do not surf the internet or check emails while in class. Abuse of this policy will result in a lower classroom participation grade.

Safety, Reporting and Resources:  

CSU’s Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Stalking, and Retaliation policy designates faculty and employees of the University as “Responsible Employees.”  This designation is consistent with federal law and guidance, and requires faculty to report information regarding students who may have experienced any form of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, relationship violence, stalking or retaliation. This includes information shared with faculty in person, electronic communications or in class assignments.  As “Responsible Employees,” faculty may refer students to campus resources (see below), together with informing the Office of Support and Safety Assessment to help ensure student safety and welfare. Information regarding sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, relationship violence, stalking and retaliation is treated with the greatest degree of confidentiality possible while also ensuring student and campus safety.  CSU’s Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Stalking, and Retaliation policy designates faculty and employees of the University as “Responsible Employees.”  This designation is consistent with federal law and guidance, and requires faculty to report information regarding students who may have experienced any form of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, relationship violence, stalking or retaliation. This includes information shared with faculty in person, electronic communications or in class assignments.  As “Responsible Employees,” faculty may refer students to campus resources (see below), together with informing the Office of Support and Safety Assessment to help ensure student safety and welfare. Information regarding sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, relationship violence, stalking and retaliation is treated with the greatest degree of confidentiality possible while also ensuring student and campus safety.

Any student who may be the victim of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, relationship violence, stalking or retaliation is encouraged to report to CSU through one or more of the following resources:

  • Emergency Response 911
  • Deputy Title IX Coordinator/Office of Support and Safety Assessment (970) 491-1350
  • Colorado State University Police Department (non-emergency) (970) 491-6425

For counseling support and assistance, please see the CSU Health Network, which includes a variety of counseling services that can be accessed at: CSU Health Network (  And, the Sexual Assault Victim Assistance Team is a confidential student resource that does not have a reporting requirement and that can be of great help to students who have experienced sexual assault. The web address is: Sexual Assault Victim Assistance Team (


If you are a student who will need accommodations in this class, please do not hesitate to make an appointment to see me to discuss your individual needs. Accommodations must be discussed in a timely manner prior to implementation.   A verifying letter from Resources for Disabled Students may be required before any accommodation is provided.


Week 1           What is Adolescent Literature? and Introductions

08/21   Introductions, Select Literature Circle Texts

Read: The Youth Lens article and the Book Bistro article

Watch: “The Danger of a Single Story.”

Begin: Your choice reading. Anticipate reading about 150 pages of choice per week, and you will be successful.

08/23   Histories and Definitions of Adolescents’ Literature

Resources for Finding and Using YA Literature

Draw table numbers for Book Bistro, Sign up to lead class.

Read: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


Week 2           Identity Part I

08/28   Discuss The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

08/30   The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Read: American Born Chinese.

Bring: All of your book pages thus far to share in class.


Week 3           Identity Part II


09/06   American Born Chinese

Book Bistro #1

Read: The Serpent King


Week 4           Family and Friendship

09/11   The Serpent King

09/13   The Serpent King

Read: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe


Week 5           Sexuality

09/18   Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

09/20   Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Read: I’ll Give You the Sun


Week 6           Negotiating Death and Grief

09/25   I’ll Give You the Sun

Research project proposal due

Bring: All of your book pages thus far to share in class.

09/27   I’ll Give You the Sun

Book Bistro #2

Read: Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets


Week 7           Mental Health

10/02   Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets

Bring: One text that you’ve loved and enjoyed this semester.

10/04   Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets

Midway Book Talks

Read: Between Shades of Gray


Week 8           Adolescents Across Time and Place: Part I

10/09   Between Shades of Gray

10/11   Between Shades of Gray

Read: Endangered


Week 9           Adolescents Across Time and Place: Part II

10/16   Endangered

Bring: All of your book pages thus far to share in class.

10/18   Endangered

Youth Lens looking across all texts???

Book Bistro #3

Read: Brown Girl Dreaming


Week 10         Adolescents in the “Real World” (Nonfiction)

10/23   Brown Girl Dreaming

10/25   Brown Girl Dreaming

Read: Unwind


Week 11         Adolescents in the Imagined Worlds (Fantasy and Science Fiction)

10/30   Unwind

11/01   Unwind

Read: Literature Circle Text


Week 12         Disability and the Body

11/06   Literature Circle Text of Choice (See first page of syllabus)

Bring: All of your book pages thus far to share in class.

 11/08   Literature Circles

Book Bistro #4

Bring: Anything you need for your literature circle presentation.


Week 13         Disability and the Body

11/13   Literature Circle Presentations

Read: If You Could Be Mine

11/15   No Class (Ricki at NCTE) – Independent Reading and Work on Final Project


Thanksgiving Break; No Class; November 20-24, 2017


Week 14         The Politics of Adolescence

11/27   If You Could Be Mine

11/29   If You Could Be Mine, Skype with Sara Farizan

Read: The Hate U Give

Graduate Students: Paper Due Next Class


Week 15         Adolescents as Agents

12/04   The Hate U Give

Bring: Your completed Reading Portfolio

12/06   The Hate U Give

Book Bistro #5


Week 16         Final

12/11   Final Exam Presentations



Thank you to Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek for hosting the Picture Book 10 for 10 (#PB10for10).

The rules are simple:

What:  10 picture books you can’t live without
Hashtag:  #PB10for10
Who:  Anyone who is interested—educators, authors, media specialists, librarians, parents, and book lovers.
When:  Thursday, August 10, 2017
Where:  All posts will be linked on the Picture Book 10 for 10 Google Community Site.

Our 2017 Topic: Favorite Picture Books to Use in the Secondary Classroom

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles (Aladdin, 2005).
(Ricki’s Review  |  Kellee’s Review)

Ricki: This book is beautifully written and the characterization is wonderfully done. I enjoy reading this book to discuss the intricacy of picture books and their application within units. This books reminds older students that picture books aren’t just for young kids.

Kellee: I feel that this picture book portrays a part of the Civil Rights Movement that most kids don’t know about unless they’ve been explicitly talked to about it. Freedom Summer gives me a way to start the conversation.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall (Greenwillow, 2015).

Ricki: We use this book when we talk about identity. I love reading this text aloud and then asking students about the author’s purpose. Many think that he is discussing disability and others argue that he is discussing gender identity. The interpretations remind us how texts give different interpretations, and this is a very good thing.

Kellee: Identity is something that everyone is struggling with in middle school, and I loved reading this book with my students and listening to their conversation about the crayons. When they begin to connect it to human identity, some really fascinating discussions break out.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen, 2012).
(Ricki’s Review  |  Kellee’s Review)

Ricki: I love to read this book on the first day or on any day that I am noticing classroom tensions. What I love about this book is that it teaches kindness without being didactic. The story goes beyond the theme of kindness and reminds readers about regret. This is a beautiful book that earns its place in classrooms of all levels.

Kellee: I begin every year with this book, and my students make kindness goals for the year to help ripple kindness throughout the school.

Locomotive by Brian Floca (Atheneum, 2013). 

Ricki: I love to show this book right before a research project/paper. It shows an example of high quality research and reminds readers that a lot of research is required in order to present a high quality product.

Tomás and the Library Lady by Pat Mora (Knopf, 1997). 

Ricki: This is a great book to start a conversation about being culturally responsive to other people. The library lady is very sensitive to Tomás, and the book makes readers want to be better people. My bilingual education teacher read this to my class, and I think of it often. I always enjoy reading it aloud.

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds (Candlewick, 2003).

Kellee: I love to participate in Dot Day because it truly shows kids the range of what art is and the importance of creativity. I use The Dot to introduce this discussion then every student makes their own dot that symbolizes them.

Ricki: This is a fantastic book to discuss imagination. I show this book when I am trying to kickstart ideas about projects. Because I make strong attempts to allow a lot of flexibility in projects, this book is great to simply inspire students to examine ideas differently.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña (Putnam, 2015).
(Kellee & Ricki’s Review)

Kellee: I wrote a whole post just on using this book with my middle school students because students really found the depth and beauty in this amazing picture book.

Ricki: This book reminds us that picture books are anything but simple. I love to use this book to talk about themes and hidden messages in writing. Then, we apply this idea to our own writing. Reading this book reminds us to look at writing more deeply.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywelt (Philomel, 2013).

Kellee: This is another superb crayon text that uses the idea of crayons being expected to act or do one thing really stunting the creativity and identity of the crayons. Also, the book is written in

Ricki: This book is funny, creative, and cleverly written. I’ve had students use this book for readers’ theater, and their performance was hysterical. Each student took the time to memorize their speech, and we talked about all of the qualities of a good speech.

Normal Norman by Tara Lazar (Sterling, 2016).
(Kellee & Ricki’s Review)

Kellee: I love the discussions of normal that this book brings up. You’ll notice, a lot of the picture books I read with my students discuss identity and kindness because picture books are such a perfect way to get conversations about tough subjects started. Norman shows us that what you think is normal may not be what another person thinks is normal, and being abnormal doesn’t mean anything is wrong.

Ricki: This is a great book to talk about what it means to be “normal.” I love to use this book to kick off discussions that queer the concept of normalcy.

Dear Dragon by Josh Funk (Viking, 2016).
(Kellee & Ricki’s Review)

Kellee: I am going to use Dear Dragon in my classroom for the first time this year! I want to get my student pen pals, and I am going to use Dear Dragon as an introduction to the idea. I’m not sure how I’m going to execute the pen pals yet, but there is also the theme of first impressions and judging based on looks that is perfect for our discussion on themes!

Ricki: Yes, Kellee! I have yet to use this book, but it would be a phenomenal text to start a student pen pal program! You might also use this book to talk about expectations and judgment.

What are your favorite books to use in the secondary classroom? 

Don’t forget to check out all of the other #PB10for10 posts by visiting the Google community site or searching on Twitter!



“Creepy Crawley Science” 

S.T.E.M. (or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) might not sound interesting to you. But, did you know when you play with Legos you’re using a form of engineering to create something?

And, who isn’t interested in flying cars, robots, and undersea ships? Well, those things are simply science, technology, engineering and math set in motion.

It’s all about finding easy ways to use these complicated disciplines to create new opportunities with common components…and some not so common ingredients, like spider silk.

Believe me, these teeny-tiny creatures create silk that can be used for breathtaking breakthroughs.

Spiders . . . ?

Yes. Spiders. I know you might think these eight-legged creatures sound more creepy than creative but did you know that spider silk is one of the strongest substances around? Well, it is. Scientists even call spider silk a “wonder material”.

I’m talking about that sticky stuff you sometimes walk through in the garden that sends shivers running up your spine.  Walking through a spider web immediately sends you searching for those little, unwelcome visitors which might be hiding in your hair. And, it’s stronger than steel and super flexible.

For decades scientists have been searching for a convenient way to harvest that silk so they would be able to use huge quantities.

It’s true. They have.

But, as you might expect, very few people want to become spider farmers simply to spend their afternoons walking up and down spider-infested rows to collect sticky webs dangling from trees, stuck to shrubs or clinging to bushes.

So what’s the answer to this scientific conundrum?

Well, you might want to read this article to find out more about sustainable spider silk: in

And if you think that’s interesting, you really might enjoy reading Irma the Inventor and the Vampire Spiders.

How many kids do you know who can build robotic spiders out of scrap metal, develop a substance that’s stronger than steel, or crash a cyber-wizard’s computer from an undetectable monitor? Well, that’s Irma. Still, all she really wants is to make some friends and blend in for once, but no matter how hard she tries, Irma always seems to stand out.

This laugh-out-loud middle grade novel encourages readers to explore the STEM fields while never losing its sense of fun.

Irma the Inventor & the Vampire Spiders
Author: Kim Kasch
Published August 21st, 2017 by 50/50 Press

About the Book: 

How many kids do you know who can build robotic spiders out of scrap metal, develop a substance that’s stronger than steel, or crash a cyber-wizard’s computer from an undetectable monitor? Well, that’s Irma. Still, all she really wants is to make some friends and blend in for once, but no matter how hard she tries, Irma always seems to stand out.

This laugh-out-loud middle grade novel encourages readers to explore the STEM fields while never losing its sense of fun.

About the Author Kim Kasch: 

I grew up in a family with 9 kids and grandma living in the back bedroom. Not surprising that I have a few stories to tell, especially since we only had 1 t.v.

I spent my days reading and, later, trying to create another world where I could escape all those brothers and sisters-and grandma-by writing. Maybe that’s why I love books so much. Well, that and the fact that I was near the end of that long sibling-chain and never had the clout to pick the t.v. shows we watched. But I’d run home after school to catch the last fifteen minutes of Barnabus Collins in Dark Shadows…

I still love to run or maybe I should say, I love to wog (a cross between walking and jogging).

Here in Portlandia, I love Halloween themed runs – where people don costumes and run. It’s a lot of fun…and I know those two words don’t always go together: fun…and…run. But here, in the damp days of fall, I think it is.

And, with all those Halloween themed runs, I guess Dark Shadows had more of an influence than some people might think. Even today my favorite author is Stephen King. My all-time favorite book is Salem’s Lot, which might have something to do with Irma the Inventor and the Vampire Spiders 🙂 

Sorry to be so long-winded but did I say I love to write, and talk, and knit, and sew, and bake… I could go on but I’ll stop by saying, I hope you’ll stop by my blog, send me a tweet, or check out my Facebook page. I’ll be sharing news about new books over there.

Thanks for listening and, hopefully, reading 🙂

Join me on Twitter or stop by and see what I’m pinning on  Pinterest and, if you read Irma the Inventor and have a question or simply want to share a comment, please feel free to send me an email. I love connecting with readers.

Amazon Author Page


Enter to win a STEM prize package and a copy of Irma the Inventor and the Vampire Spiders!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you, Kim, for this science-rific guest post and giveaway!


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Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

If you haven’t noticed, nonfiction texts have really been stepping up their game recently! Some of my favorites from from Animal Planet and Time, Inc., so I wanted to share some new series that are coming from them. 

Animal Planet Chapter Books

Book #1: Sharks
Book #2: Dinosaurs
Book #3: Bugs
Book #4: Snakes

Summary: Engaging narrative nonfiction is paired with tried-and-true kid-friendly subjects in a popular chapter book series from Animal Planet and Time Inc. Books. All books in the series feature plentiful full-color photographs, illustrations, and a kid-friendly design. Sidebars such as “Meet the Scientists,” “In Your News Feed,” and “Fact File” pages highlight interesting aspects of each creature profiled and keep readers up to date on the most current research. Packed with information for thrill seekers and animal lovers alike, these are the perfect books for new readers who are ready to take a deeper dive into their favorite subject.

A companion fiction series, Animal Planet Adventures, is also available.

Animal Planet Adventures

Book #1: Dolphin Rescue by Catherine Nichols
Book #2: Farm Friends Escape! by Gail Herman

Summary: Animal Planet Adventure chapter books present fiction and nonfiction within a familiar narrative format to bring the best of the animal world to young readers. Perfect for reluctant, challenged, and newly fluent readers, the new series combines fun animal mysteries with cool nonfiction sidebars that relate directly to the stories. Each book contains 100 full-color illustrations and photographs.

Animal Planet Adventures Curriculum Guide

Animal Planet Animal Bites

Animals on the Move
Baby Animals
*Newest titles!*

Farm Animals
Wild Animals
*Reviewed October 5th, 2016*

Ocean Animals
Polar Animals
*Reviewed April 27th, 2016*

Summary: The Animal Bites series provides emerging readers with the perfect bite-sized guide to the animal world. Each book contains more than 200 striking photographs, easy-to-understand graphics, and maps. Fun “Just Like Me” call-outs show the ways in which animals are similar to young readers–sharks rely on their senses of sight and scent to learn about their world, for example, just like kids do. “Info bits” boxes highlight quick facts about a species’ home, size, and classification. Each book contains a glossary, a page of resource where kids can go to learn more about animals, and a great list of activities to try, from making a bird feeder to moving like a baby rabbit or tern chick.

A portion of proceeds from the sale of books in the Animal Bites series benefits the principal partners of Reach Out. Act. Respond. (R.O.A.R.), Animals Planet’s initiative dedicated to improving the lives of animals in our communities and in the wild.

All Recommended For:

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 “How Do You Engage Restless Fourth Graders During the Last Weeks of School? With a Good Book, Of Course!”

This spring I was asked to fill in for a fourth grade teacher on maternity leave. I was excited to get back in the classroom, though a little nervous about taking over during those last hazy crazy days when students have already checked out and are dreaming of spending their homework-free vacation at the swimming pool or doing some other activity that doesn’t involve sitting still and listening to the teacher.

When I stepped in during April, most of the weeks were full of to-do lists with structured plans already in place. But once the end-of-year testing was completed, I was left with three weeks to fill. I was told I should continue the math lessons according to the manual, and should do some project-based learning to cover the science unit on matter.

But what was the best use of time during the language arts block? The director said I didn’t need to continue with vocabulary or spelling units. We had finished Junior Great Books, and there wasn’t a reading workshop set in place. So how was I going to keep my restless students engaged and involved for the last three weeks of school? The answer was simple: by reading an amazing book.

Luckily, I found a worn-out set of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, one of my all-time favorites and a novel I had taught to sixth graders for many years. Since the students in my class were reading above grade level and this was a Jewish Day School, I felt the difficulty and content would be appropriate for fourth grade.

I introduced the book in the usual way: studying the cover, giving some author background, finding out what students knew about the Holocaust, doing a quick map study. The real fun began when I told the class we were going to hold Reader’s Theater each day to read and act out the chapters together. I set up some ground rules:

1) You may turn down a part if you don’t want it

2) We will rotate the parts each day

3) If you participate, you must try your best to read loudly and with expression

4) You should act out any motions described by the narrator

5) Anyone who does not take his/her part seriously will be replaced by another student for the day

Each day, I made a list of props that would be helpful for the next day’s reading and asked for volunteers to bring them in. Students began bringing in other props that they thought of as well. I used name cards to randomly draw parts until all students had been chosen. Sometimes I swapped out partway through a chapter, depending on the length.

I made up Rule #1 since some students did not want roles for the opposite gender, and I wanted to allow them the choice of just following along if they did not want to be onstage. (This would also be helpful if you have a classroom of varied reading skills so that everyone has the option of participating.) I began by reading the part of Narrator but about halfway through the book I chose others to read the part.

I included Rule #5 because I wanted the students to understand and respect the seriousness of the story. I had to give a few warnings and remind students of their goals, but I only had to replace a student once for talking in a silly voice during a serious scene. This was a learning experience for everyone as it led to journal responses and a discussion about what it would feel like if you were woken in the middle of the night by Nazi soldiers looking for your best friend.

We covered two chapters each day, one with Reader’s Theater and one read silently. Students kept journals where they wrote predictions along with other responses each day. Sometimes they responded to specific prompts; sometimes they wrote from the point of view of a character; sometimes they picked out the best descriptions and drew pictures to match. We started each day with a swapping of journals and a brief discussion in small groups. We finished the book in a little over two weeks, leaving the last week for final activities that included group murals, A to Z picture books, character interviews, and quiz bowls.

During the last few weeks of school, there were unexpected interruptions: extra practices for the end-of-year musical performance, an invitation to watch another class’s PBL presentations, a guest speaker. We may not have gotten to journal entries each day, but through it all, we never skipped the day’s reading. Students came in talking about the book in the morning, wanting to play with the props and act out parts.

No one can deny that it’s hard to hold a student’s attention during those hot last days of school when fourth graders are already looking at themselves as fifth graders and students are ready to escape the four walls of the classroom and run barefoot through the grass, the sun beating down on their shoulders.

But as I discovered when I taught fourth grade this year: if there was one time where I captured the attention of all of my students, it was during reading time. So if you want to beat the I’m-ready-for-summer-vacation blues, find a good book and read it from start to finish during the last weeks of school. Lois Lowry wove a spell over my students and made them forget that school was almost out. For an hour each day, we were transported to a different time and place where the challenges the characters faced became challenges of our own. This is the power of the well-chosen word; this is the magic of books.

About the Book:

Sunny Beringer hates her first name—her real first name—Sunflower. And she hates that her mom has suddenly left behind her dad, Scott, and uprooted their family miles away from New Jersey to North Carolina just so she can pursue some fancy degree. Sunny has to live with a grandmother she barely knows, and she’s had to leave her beloved cat and all her friends behind. And no one else seems to think anything is wrong.

So she creates “Sunny Beringer’s Super-Stupendous Plan to Get My Parents Back Together”—a list of sure-fire ways to make her mom and Scott fall madly in love again, including:

Send Mom flowers from a “Secret Admirer” to make Scott jealous and make him regret letting them move so far away.
Make a playlist of Scott’s favorite love songs—the mushier the better—and make sure it’s always playing in the car.
Ask them about the good old days when they first fell in love.

But while working on a photo album guaranteed to make Mom change her mind and rush them right back home, Sunny discovers a photo—one that changes everything.

Sunny’s family, the people she thought she could trust most in the world, have been keeping an enormous secret from her. And she’ll have to reconcile her family’s past and present, or she’ll lose everything about their future.

Review from Atlanta Journal Constitution: “Much as she did in her 2015 debut “Extraordinary,” North Carolina author Franklin delivers a moving and realistic story (with subplots, such as one that involves protesting the luxury fur business). “Sunflower” shines with emotion, convincing dialogue and relatable characters.”

About the Author:

Miriam Spitzer Franklin has taught elementary and middle school students for over 20 years in public, private, and homeschool settings. She is passionate about reading, writing, figure skating, and animal rights and environmental causes. She has coached her daughter’s Odyssey of the Mind team for the past five years and loves to see creativity in action! Her debut novel, EXTRAORDINARY, was published by Skypony Press in May 2015 and her second middle grade novel, CALL ME SUNFLOWER, was published by Skypony in May 2017.

Thank you to Miriam for this wonderful post!


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