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Who Wins? 100 Historical Figures Go Head-to-Head and You Decide the Winner!
Created by Clay Swartz
Illustrated by Tom Booth
Published July 12th, 2016 by Workman Publishing Company

Summary: Who would rock the mic at karaoke night? Abraham “The Great Emancipator” Lincoln or Jane “Lady Persuasion” Austen? How about a hot dog eating contest between Harry “Mr. Magic” Houdini and Mary “Mother of Frankenstein” Shelley? What about a pie contest? A staring contest? And who has a better chance of sneaking into Area 51, Isaac “Gravity Guy” Newton or Sacagawea aka “The Pathfinder”?

In Who Wins?: History, you decide the winner in over 50 head-to-head challenges between 100 of history’s most illustrious characters. But choosing the victor isn’t arbitrary. Readers must justify their answers using each of the historical figures’ six 0-10 category rankings in bravery, leadership, artistry, wealth, wisdom, and fitness; as well as facts from short biographies.

As funny as it is informative, the book is uniquely formatted so readers can match up each and every character in any of the head-to-head battles. History has never been so much fun!

Review (from 10/26/16): Who Wins? is informative, funny, and so cleverly formatted that it is going to be a star in homes and classrooms. I love how the book gives each historical figure a nickname (either one they already were given, like Satchmo, or made up, like Gravity Guru for Isaac Newton) to add a bit of humor to the book; however, still makes sure to include a plethora of information about each figure including a bio then 3 little-known facts. Each head-to-head situation also helps guide your decision by giving some example questions to think about. Let’s look at a head-to-head, so you can really see how clever it is!

In My Classroom: Whenever I begin a debate unit, I always start with a mini-debate, and I wanted this year’s to include Who Wins? because I thought it was such an awesome class resource (and my students were slightly obsessed with the book). To start, I randomly picked a male and a female historical figure from each side of the Who Wins? book for each class. I didn’t choose the middle activity yet because I wanted my students to get to know their historical figures before I gave them the rest of the topic for the debate. For two days, the students researched their figures and tried to learn as much about them as possible. We talked about making sure to not just list dates but to get to know them as a person: their strengths, their weaknesses, their personality, their education, etc. Finally, on day three, I randomly revealed the rest of the debate topic and randomly put each class into two groups. We ended up with:

Who wins WRESTLEMANIA? Queen Elizabeth I or Genghis Khan?
Who wins LIVING IN 10,000 BC? Harriet Tubman or Ramses II?
Who wins CELEBRITY JEOPARDY? Nelson Mandela or Marie Curie?

Each group then made a Google Doc that they could collaborate on, and they focuses on preparing their argument, possible counterarguments, and rebuttals to the counter argument. They could research more now that they knew the topic, and I shared Who Wins? information with them as well (see photo above).

Then, after a couple of days of collaboration, we had our mini-debate. The most successful was the Queen Elizabeth I vs. Genghis Khan because they not only researched their historical figure, but they also researched Wrestlemania which allowed the debate go to a whole different level than my other two periods. The Nelson Mandela vs. Marie Curie debate had the opposite problem: they didn’t research Jeopardy at all which made for the debate never really having a clear winner because they were just debating who was smarter. The Ramses II vs. Harriet Tubman went well though the Harriet Tubman side never pulled out their best argument: she primarily lived on the run in the wilderness! In the end, Wrestlemania was a tie; Ramses II would survive better in 10,000 BC; and Marie Curie would win Jeopardy.

Some Students’ Collaborative Notes: Here are some examples of the collaborative notes some groups put together when preparing for the mini-debate. These are not examples of the initial research notes they took on their historical figures.

Genghis Khan

Harriet Tubman: 

Marie Curie:

Second Debate Using Who Wins?For our second debate, I did things a little bit differently. Instead of giving them the historical person first, for each class, I randomly chose the center tile (the topic) and we ended up with: Rap Battle, Ironman World Championship, and Summiting Everest. I then let the students, within their groups, go through their side of the book to find the person they wanted for their side of the debate.

They used their prior knowledge, the bios, and the stats for each person to try to pick the best for the debate. Our people ended up being:

Who Wins a Rap Battle: Muhammad Ali vs. Sojourner Truth?
Who Wins the Ironman World Championship: Jim Thorpe vs. Mildred Ella Didrikson?
Who Wins at Summiting Everest: Ernest Shackleton vs. Alexander the Great?

This time around, students were much more invested in their historical figure and with the topic already chosen, they could narrow down their research. Also, they realized how important it was to research the topic. Students also were given 2 extra days to research this time though given the same amount of time (2 days) to collaborate.

Once we got to the debates, I made a decision I was so happy about: Students were not allowed to have their iPads with them. They could have 1 Post-it note (front only) with any specifics that were tough to remember (years, prices, times, etc.), but that was it. And the debates went so much better! Students knew their stuff, and the debates were so intense, detailed, and close!

In the end, we’re still not sure who would be most successful at summiting Everest, Shackelton or Alexander the Great; Jim Thorpe is more likely to win the Ironman World Championship; and Muhammad Ali would win a rap battle vs. Sojourner Truth.

Final Assessment: As a final cumulative assessment, I asked my students to write me an argumentative paragraph stating why they felt their historical figure would be more successful than the other. Students were asked to have multiple reasons why with evidence to support their claim.

Reflection: Using Who Wins?, I was able to create a standards-based unit that allowed students to not only debate, research, and read informational texts, but work collaboratively, think outside the box, and cite evidence to support their claims. I know the students learned from it as well, and they asked to do another, so I know they enjoyed it. They also now realize that learning just dates or facts about a person isn’t thorough research, it is important to know both sides of an argument so you can have a rebuttal, and that you need to research all aspects of a debate to ensure you are arguing for the right reasons. Overall, I call this a win!

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top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. The feature was created because The Broke and Bookish are particularly fond of lists (as are we!). Each week a new Top Ten list topic is given and bloggers can participate.

 Today’s Topic: Ten Reasons Why I Love Teaching Middle School


1. They are trying to find their identity and are still moldable, so I feel like I can make a difference.

I love that I am part of these students’ lives during a very influential time. I know that elementary and high school are important as well, but I think it is iso important for kids between the ages of 11 and 14 to have positive influences in their life.

2. Middle grade books!

I love them! And I get a mix of picture books and young adult novels as well! Perfect!

3. Middle school is TOUGH, and I hope I can be a bright light in their days.

Think back to Middle School. Did you enjoy being 12? Most people say no, and most of us cannot think of a teacher who really helped brighten our days in middle school. I hope I can be that bright light that will help them remember this time in a positive way.

4. Teaching only 1 subject.

I love teaching reading. I have the ability to teach more subjects, but I love that I can just teach the one I am most passionate about.

5. The discussions we have over the world, books, or their life.

Middle school kids are so insightful, and I love the conversations we have. And I think sometimes no one listens to them, but they definitely have a voice and opinions and insight.

6. Working with teachers who are passionate about this age also (because only those who are passionate stay in MS).

Other people who are passionate about teaching are amazing to work with, but there is a special little niche in middle school for those of us who love this age. I adore working with these people.

7. Because middle school is a really fundamental time.
I’ve written a post before that showed how middle school really molded who I am today: This post and my time as a middle school teacher really show me that so much of who we become is found during the years of middle school

8. The inquisitiveness of elementary age kids + the ability of high school = middle school

I always joke that elementary school kids are too short for me to teach (they are out of my peripheral vision) and high schools are too jaded for me to teach, but all jokes aside, middle schoolers really do embody so much of what makes teaching fun. They are young enough that they are still open to learning and inquiry, but they are old enough that they think for themselves and have vast knowledge.

9. Because middle schoolers are still kids.

But they are still just kids!

10. The hours 😉 We’re 8:30-4. I am not a morning person, so that is really as early as I would like to go.

Self explanatory 🙂

Why do you love teaching/working with the age you do?


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“Theater Games to Promote Reading and Writing”


Everyone can play! Everyone can learn through playing. The Theater Game format is a charted course for the regular classroom teacher who wishes to bring the excitement, the pleasures, the disciplines and the magic of theater to the classroom.

Theater games, played in the classroom, should be recognized not as diversions from curriculum needs, but rather as supports, which can thread through each day, acting as energizers and/or springboards for everyone. Inherent in theater techniques is verbal, nonverbal, written and unwritten communicating. Communication abilities, developed and heightened in theater game workshops will, in time, spill over into other curriculum need (the 3 Rs) and into everyday life.

Teaching/learning should be a happy, joyful experience, as full of glee as the infant’s breakthrough out of the limitations of crawling into the first step walking!

Beyond immediate curriculum needs, playing theater games will bring moments of spontaneity. The intuitive comes bearing its gifts only in the moment of spontaneity.” Right now is the time of discovery, of creativity, of learning. While playing theater games, teachers and students can meet as fellow players in present time, involved with one another, off the subject, and ready for free connecting, communicating, responding, experiencing, experimenting and breaking through to new horizons.

Reprinted from THEATER GAME FILE HANDBOOK, Viola Spolin, Northwestern University Press

I had the extreme good fortune to study with Viola Spolin author of Improvsiation for the Theater and inventor of modern day Improvisation. I can honestly say she changed my life in many ways. After a long career as an actor and performer and teacher I’ve written extensively on the philosophy of education she imparted to me. ( Recently I’ve branched out and written my first full-length children’s adventure novel and incorporated some the lessons I learned from Improvisational Theater Games. The main one being PRESENCE is the state one must be in to tap imagination, and creativity.

To that end, I would like to introduce you to some games I learned from Viola Spolin that foster a love of words, creative writing and story-telling. I urge you to try these games in the classroom or at home for fun.

Warm-up with HANDWRITING LARGE – have the student think of their favorite word or phrase and go to the black or white board and write the word as large as possible to fill the entire board! At desks make sure they cover on page entirely with their favorite word or phrase. Urge them to “FEEL” the word as they write! It is essential the body be involved. You may coach them to feel the word in their feet, their spine, their chest – now write your word!

SINGING SYLLABLES – Have one person go out of the room and the rest of the group or class decide on a 3 or 4 syllable word. (depending on age group). Break the word into its syllables and assign each syllable to a portion of the group. Then decide on a simple song to sing. Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Happy Birthday, etc. A song where all know the melody. Have each group sing their syllable to that tune, simultaneously. Then bring in the person who does not know the word, have them wander through the singing groups and “put the word together”. It’s a lot of fun and you can use this as part of a vocabulary lesson or just for fun.

THE WRITING GAME is a more advanced game is also fun if you are teaching creative writing:

Materials: 4 pieces of paper or one divided into quadrants, pen or pencil

Label each paper 1, 2, 3 and 4. Title #1 My Dream, #2 How To, #3 A Story and #4 A letter (or any 4 disparate subjects or styles of writing. i.e., A memory, A poem, etc.)

Sidecoach calls out a number to the players. Players must begin (without hesitation or forethought) writing on that subject. Writing is to continue non-stop. Points off for hesitating or too much thinking and not writing. After a short interval coach calls another number and players must INSTANTLY SWITCH to that number’s page, writing non-stop on the new subject. Coach will call each number randomly and at intervals under one minute. Players are to switch to each subject called and continue writing where they left off.

Game continues until each player has covered each page with writing.

Focus: To switch instantly between 4 different subjects when coached

Sidecoaching: One!      Three!      Two!, etc. (giving enough time to get a flow going but not too much and vary the times from short to medium short) Keep writing! Don’t plan! No pausing – write continuously!

Points of Observation:

  1. Each subject requires a different mode of thinking and switching instantly between modes allows access to player’s intuitive areas.
  2. This is an exercise and not a test. Have fun and push to make switches instantly. Hesitation is bound up with worry that what you write will be evaluated. Judgement causes hesitation. Judgement is subjective and will cancel flow.
  3. Avoid forethought. Forethought is writing without putting it down.

My experience in improvisation has allowed me to reach into areas of my own creativity that I never imagined and the experience contributed to my life as an actor, teacher and now author.

I hope this work will do the same for you and your students.

About the Author: Gary Schwartz is an award-winning, TV and film actor, director, comedian and a master improvisational acting coach whose 30 years as a performer and improv teacher has helped transform the lives of thousands of people, both on- and off-screen.

It was Gary’s 18-year association with world-renowned theater educator and author, Viola Spolin – famous for training the very first improvisational theater troupe in the US which led to the creation of today’s well-known Second City improv troupe – that has provided the foundation for his work today. In 1988 Gary co-founded the Spolin Players improv troupe (, and is the only master teacher to have ever earned an endorsement from both Viola Spolin and her son, the legendary original director of Second City, Paul Sills.

Originally from New York State, Gary began his professional career as a mime at age 13, performing up and down the Hudson River with Pete Seegar, Arlo Guthrie and other great folk entertainers of the 60’s. In the 70’s and 80’s he appeared in numerous film and television projects including the Oscar-winning feature film Quest for Fire and 65 episodes of the Emmy-winning TV series Zoobilee Zoo, with Ben Vereen. Since then, as a voice actor, Gary has gone on to work with Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Tim Burton, Kenneth Brannagh and many other well-known directors. Details of his extensive acting career are available at (

Currently Gary resides in North Bend WA. He is founder of The Valley Center Stage, North Bend’s Community Theater. He teaches theater games locally and around the world. He also teaches acting for animation and writes on Spolin.

He has recently authored his first children’s novel The King of Average (978-0-9975860-7-7 Paperback ),  published by Bunny Moon Books. It has been named to The Best Books of 2016 lists by Kirkus Reviews and More information can be found at his website

About The King of AverageJames isn’t the world’s greatest kid, but he’s not the worst, either: he’s average! When he decides to become the most average kid who ever lived, James is transported to another world where he meets Mayor Culpa, a well-dressed talking Scapegoat who recruits him to become the new King of Average.

He’s joined on his quest by a professional Optimist and his grouchy companion, an equally professional Pessimist. Together, they set out on a journey of self-discovery that leads them all the way from the Sea of Doubt to Mount Impossible, the highest peak in the Unattainable Mountains. When James stumbles into a Shangri-la called Epiphany, he uncovers the secret of who he really is.

Follow James on his hilarious, adventure-packed journey to find self-worth in this heartfelt middle grade novel The King of Average by debut author Gary Schwartz.


Thank you, Gary, for this fun-filled and kinesthetic-focused post!


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newbery medal

On Monday, we found out that The Girl Who Drank the Moon won the 2017 Newbery Medal and The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz, Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, and Freedom Over Me by Ashley Bryan earned Newbery Honors. Watching the Youth Media Awards live is always one of my favorite days of the year because it they always make me so happy for the books I’ve read and so excited for the ones I haven’t read yet (as well as a bit sad for the wonderful books that weren’t honored). This year, the ALA awards were even more fun to watch because I was able to enjoy it with my Mock Newbery Book Club.  Although none of our Mock Newbery predictions were honored by that committee, we were so excited to see so many books we read this year honored.

Starting a Mock Newbery Book Club this year came about because of a few reasons. First, I’ve been fascinated by the Newbery Award since I was a kid. I remember having to read Newbery winners/honors when I was in school, and I was always enthralled with the list. Being on the Walden Book Award Committee also helped me understand how book awards worked and made me want to share it with my students. Third, Michele Knott was willing to share what she has learned from her own Mock Newbery experiences to help me get started on the right foot. And finally, I had a group of kids that wanted to do it with me and were passionate. That is what really made all the difference.

To Get Started

Before officially starting the club in September, I scoured Newbery prediction blog posts, the Mock Newbery Goodreads group, the Mock Newbery prediction list, and starred reviews to come up with a list of books that I would share with the club. In the end, I chose 26 titles to split between the 3 months we’d be reading. Each month had a list of 7-9 titles for students to choose from, and they were asked to read 2 a month to equal 6 or more titles read before voting day.

2016-10-04 12.20.15

T0 help my students have access to the novels, I began a Donors Choose project which was fully funded (THANK YOU!). I ended up with 3 copies of each book to share with my club. (I’ve also since received a grant to continue the book club during the spring though we haven’t decided what we’re going to do yet.)

Our Process

My group of 7th graders (ranging from 10 to 20 students) met twice a week during their lunch time. Some students came every day instead of just twice, others only came once a week which was the minimum to be part of the voting. For the first 3 weeks of the month, we spent book club time reading or recommending books to each other. Book talk was all throughout the room–so much book love! The last week of the month, I set up discussions around each book for the students to look critically at each book while looking at the Newbery criteria. Students also had the opportunity to discuss the books they were reading at any time electronically through small groups that I set up on Edmodo. This was the process throughout October, November, and December/January. Then the last week before we voted, we sat in a circle and shared the book we were going to vote for as the winner and shared why.

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By the end of our process, 12 7th graders and 2 6th graders who chose to read the books on their own were able to vote. To determine our winner and honors, I used a process similar to the Newbery committee. Students were allowed to vote (through a Google Form) for their top 4 books (the committee does 3). Their top vote received 4 points, second vote 3 points, etc.

Our Vote

Mock Newbery Winner & Honors

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (16 points) *Odyssey Honor
Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee (15 points)
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo (12 points)
Save Me a Seat by Gina Varadarajan and Sarah Weeks (12 points)
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (12 points)

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager (10 points)
Booked by Kwame Alexander (8 points)
Pax by Sara Pennypacker (7 points)
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier (7 points)
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (6 points) *Newbery Honor
Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd (6 points)
All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor (6 points)

Received votes totaling 5 or less points (in alphabetical order):
As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds *Schneider Award, Coretta Scott King Honor
Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm *Scott O’Dell (Announced 1/11)
Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill *Newbery Medal
Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz *Newbery Honor
Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson
Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner *YALSA Honor for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
Seventh Wish by Kate Messner


I cannot wait to go through this process again next year, but I hope to make it even a better experience. Here are some takeaways I have:

  • I need to spend more time looking at the criteria and what it means with the students as well as possibly looking at past winners. It is really hard to get them past “I like it.”
  • I need to decide if I want to give less options next year to allow for more people to read each book. They had A LOT of options each month, so some books only had 1 student read them thus couldn’t win even if that one person gave it their #1 spot. (Perry T. Cook, Girl Who Drank the Moon, and Wolf Hollow suffered from this.)
  • I need to figure out how to ensure that all members come to the discussion days because it is really hard to discuss books if not everyone is there. How can I keep kids coming without making it feel like another class?
  • I need to figure out how to structure the discussions better. With each person reading two, I can’t have all books’ discussions going on at once because a person cannot be in two places at once. That is why I like electronic or written discussion, but I have to work on getting more use out of these mediums.

Our Viewing Party


Then, on Monday, January 23rd, at 8am ET, we all gathered in my classroom to view the ALA Youth Media Awards live. This was all of my students’ first time watching the awards, and  I loved going through the experience with them. Although they were so sad that their favorites weren’t honored, they were so ecstatic when a book they did know won something.

I cannot wait to do this again next year!

Kellee Signature



Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator: Marc Boutavant
Expected Publication June 6th, 2017 by Chronicle Books

Today we are happy to be able to be able to exclusively reveal the teaching guide for Barkus by Patricia MacLachlan. This is an early chapter book that is a must-get for all of our early elementary friends.

About the Book: Meet Barkus. Barkus is loyal. Barkus is generous. Barkus is sometimes a little too energetic! But in the end, Barkus is family. The exuberant Barkus and his lucky young owner jump, whirl, and twirl across this delightful early chapter book series from two award-winning book creators.

About the Author: Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless books for young readers, including Sarah, Plain and Tall, winner of the Newbery Medal. Her novels for young readers include: Arthur, For the Very First Time; The Facts and Fiction of Minna Pratt; Skylark; Caleb’s Story; More Perfect than the Moon; Grandfather’s Dance; Word After Word After Word; Kindred Souls; and The Truth of Me. She is also the author of countless beloved picture books, a number of which she co-wrote with her daughter, Emily.

About the Illustrator: Marc Boutavant is an illustrator, graphic artist, and comic strip author. He lives in Paris.

About the Guide: This guide consists of discussion opportunities and classroom extension activities designed for use by Pre-K through second grade students in classroom, small group, or individual assignments.

You can also access the teaching guide here.

Recommended For: 

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Don’t miss out on this one!

Kellee Signature

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If you haven’t been to the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) convention or ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE) Workshop and you love books, this would be a real treat to yourself. The NCTE convention occurs each November the Thursday through Sunday before Thanksgiving. Then, the ALAN Workshop occurs the Monday and Tuesday following the NCTE convention. Attendees include teachers, librarians, teacher educators, authors, and publishers. I’ve gone every year since 2006, and I absolutely love attending.

I love meeting all of the great, incredible new authors. But this year, I was able to meet two of my childhood icons, Ann M. Martin, author of The Baby-Sitters Club series and S. E. Hinton, author of The Outsiders.


Ann M. Martin


S. E. Hinton

The NCTE convention allows us to fulfill our childhood dreams, but it also helps us fulfill adult dreams. This year, I was honored to chair a panel that featured Laurie Halse Anderson, E. K. Johnston, and Amber Smith at the ALAN Workshop. Laurie led the discussion, which was centered on issues of rape and healing. All three authors have phenomenal books that critically examine this topic.


Me, E. K. Johnston, Laurie Halse Anderson, Amber Smith

My first presentation was “Opportunity for Advocacy: Examining Young Adult Literature’s Treatment of Erased Identities and Histories.” I was really proud with how this presentation went! Wendy, Kellee, and I presented different ways that young adult texts erase or deny identities and how this can be used to promote advocacy. Two of the handouts that emerged from this session will be available this Wednesday and Thursday


Me, Kellee, Wendy

I also presented at a roundtable session, “Advocating for Hope: The Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award and Its Importance in Promoting and Providing a Positive Outlook.” We used the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award books to show different creative ways to help students search for messages of hope. We also discussed how to create text sets of hope.


Advocating for Hope Roundtable

I also presented at a roundtable in the “Culturally Diverse Young Adult Literature: Voices of Advocacy & Community” session. Meg Medina and Kekla Magoon started out the presentation and discussed the importance of culturally diverse literature to promote advocacy. My roundtable featured Kekla Magoon’s How it Went Down. We talked about how interdisciplinary ideas, like dog-whistle politics, could be used to help students analyze perspective and work toward advocacy.

My last presentation was in a paper panel called “Examining Responses to Young Adult Literature in English Education and English Language Arts Classrooms.” Wendy Glenn and I talked about our research study about the ways students labeled as struggling negotiated their reading identities in nontraditional and traditional English courses. The full paper is available in the Research in the Teaching of English‘s August 2016 journal. The article is published here.

I also attended some great presentations about identity, equity, and advocacy (my interests). I learned so much and am very excited to keep rethinking my instruction and research.

From old friends to new, I am always excited by the incredible connections I make at this conference. I am lifted up by the individuals who share this passion for reading and feel so grateful for my NCTE and ALAN families. Thank you all for another wonderful year that invigorated me and made me feel even more alive and excited to begin this next year—for I genuinely believe that reading saves lives.

Until next year, friends! Will I see you there? 



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What is NCTE and ALAN? The figurative answer is BOOK LOVING EDUCATOR HEAVEN! The literal answer is NCTE stands for the National Council of Teachers of English and ALAN is the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE. Each November, the annual NCTE conference followed by the ALAN workshop is six days of educators of reading & writing, books, and authors. I have attended both every year except last year since 2010, and it is one of the things that truly fills my teaching tank.


This year at the conference, the focus was advocacy, and I began my time there with a panel about authors as advocates which featured Jason Reynolds, Meg Medina, Greg Neri, e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Sharon Draper, and Ibtisam Barakat. The panel brought up many important topics though specifically focused on how literature can be windows and mirrors for our students. The easiest way to share the brilliance of these authors is to share what they said (from my Twitter feed, so may not be exact quotes):

Greg Neri

  • “I may not have the answers, but I can raise important questions.”
  • “My books serve as gateways that raise questions that teachers might not be prepared to talk about.”
  • “Talk TO kids not AT kids.”
  • “Kids have a voice. They just need to be assured they can use it.”

Meg Medina

  • “I wrote with the intention of kids recognizing themselves and their experience on the page.”
  • “Take a risk on new author voices.”

Sharon Draper

  • “How do we advocate for change? By getting kids to read which makes them think.”
  • “Books are an opportunity to begin conversation.”
  • “DO NOT USE THE TERM THOSE KIDS. Every kid that walks into the classroom needs an opportunity. They all need you.”
  • “Put all the books out there and let kids find the books they need.”
  • “Books touch people in ways authors don’t expect.”

e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

  • “Give that one piece of literature that can give a reader a window of who they COULD be.”
  • “Books create conversation. When we are in conversation we create opportunity.”
  • “None of us are blind to the hate/oppression in US. Young people more than ever need an opportunity to be heard.”

Jason Reynolds

  • “Greatest form of advocacy, underrated form of advocacy, are the mundane stories.”
  • “Very dangerous thing to tell a kid that the way they natural speak, the way their family speaks, is improper/wrong.”

Ibtisam Barakat

  • “You can destroy children by words.”
  • “When a president of a country targets one particular group, that’s dangerous.”
  • “Kids (we) only learn from people we like. It’s all about the relationship.”
  • “To be here for years and still feel like an outsider. Our whole culture is mispronounced.”
  • “When dealing with children all political views and prejudicial feelings should be put aside and the child should be treated as just that, a child.”


I then went directly to my first presentation titled OPPORTUNITY FOR ADVOCACY: EXAMINING YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE’S TREATMENT OF  ERASED IDENTITIES AND HISTORIES that I was presenting with Ricki and her adviser at UConn, Wendy Glenn. I loved working with Ricki on this presentation, and I really felt like there were amazing conversations were had while discussing figurative and literal erasing of histories and identity.

Following this presentation was our session about the Walden Award. I was lucky enough to introduce the award and its history to our attendees.

View the introduction presentation at:

We then worked with our attendees on how each Walden Award winner fit the idea of hope, what hope is, and how you can use the intersection of art, music, writing, and reading to promote hope within the classroom.

Some of my favorite part of this round table is the discussion of what hope is and why it is important:

  • “What is hope? Hope is the thing w/ feathers. -Dickinson | Belief in the possible. | Footholds when you are slipping. | Knowing I’m not alone.”
  • “Everyone has a different definition of hope.”
  • “How is a positive outcome different than a hopeful outcome?”
  • “Some books with neat, positive outcome may not seem real while hope seems real and is a bit open and messy.”
  • “Hopeful endings let the reader be part of the conclusion of the story.”
  • “A little bit of light in the darkness is a lot. Hope is the sun beyond the dark clouds. -Daria Plumb”
  • “Don’t want to leave kids just in the loss, the dark. Need to look at hope, the light. -Wendy Glenn”

One thing I love about NCTE is being able to see some teaching super stars present about their work. I never get to see everyone that I hope to because of conflicting sessions, but I was able to get to see Linda Reif and Harvey Daniels this year, both who I have never seen before.


The first session I attended was Linda Reif’s where she shared her Heart Map poetry books that she does with her students to help the explore poetry in a more authentic and memorable way that leads deeper understanding of poetry through reflection, art, and reading. The final product is a beautiful heart book filled with  poems, reflections, and artwork.


Then I went to see Harvey “Smokey” Daniels who was one of the first education authors that I really connected with, so I was so excited to finally be able to be inspired by him. His newest text is The Curious Classroom, so he engaged us in discussion about inquiry and how to bring inquiry into our classroom. I took away the reminder that inquiry does not have to be a large unit project or assessment but can just be a way to start each day or a way for students to find what really interests them. I look forward to reading The Curious Classroom and work even more towards making my class a hub of inquiry.


My final presentation was an author panel with Tim Federle, Elana K. Arnold, Claire LeGrand, Heidi Schulz, Anne Nesbet, and Rita Williams-Garcia on how they take the life they live and use what they know to write their fiction. The panel was fantastic, and I felt that it was a perfect mix of seeing amazing authors and activities that could be used directly in the classroom. The authors were so good, I had to take some notes! (And there were more that I didn’t get to write down because I was so enthralled.)

  • “All of life is material for writing. I rewrite the past as I wish I’d done.” -Tim Federle
  • “I’m the protagonist of my own life story.” -Tim Federle
  • Take lots of notes because “you never know when you’re living history.” -Anne Nesbet
  • “Delphine had to learn to form her own opinion and defend herself.” -Rita Williams-Garcia

The presentation below have each authors’ writing tip that will help your student writers move from life to notebook to fiction.

View the presentation at:

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On Sunday, I attended one of my favorite events at NCTE, The Scholastic brunch, which introduces the attendees to six books and the authors, in groups of 3, take part in readers’ theater of scenes from each book. This year the authors were Ann E. Burg (Unbound), Alyson Gerber (Braced), Christine Taylor (Riding Chance), Mary E. Lambert (Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes), Peadar O’Guilin (The Call), and Jordan Sonnenblick (Falling Over Sideways).

Throughout these 4 days, I was very lucky to see so many wonderful authors, some new to me and some I consider friends. I want to thank all of the authors and publishers for everything they do during NCTE!


Sharon Draper
Margarita Engle
Laurie Halse Anderson
Cindy Jenson-Elliott
Sharon Draper
Becky Albertalli
Kevin Henkes
Rita Williams-Garcia
Matt de la Peña


Greg Neri
Adam Silvera
e.E. Charlton-Trujillo
Joseph Bruchac
Janet Fox
Ranson Riggs
Reyna Grande
Jeannine Atkins
Nora Raleigh Baskin


The amazingness that is the ALAN workshop’s first event is the ALAN breakfast on Saturday morning, and this one definitely start with a bang: S.E. Hinton was the esteemed speaker. I also love the breakfast because the ALAN Award and Ted Hipple Service Award are both given out. These two awards given to advocates for adolescent literature and ALAN are always accompanied by amazing speeches, and this year was no different!

Hipple Award Winner: Marge Ford

  • “ALAN is a force of like-minded people. We are story people.”

ALAN Award Winner: Gary Salvner

  • “Just as stories have changed me, I pray that they can change others.”
  • “We don’t need to build a damn wall, we need to open doors and give kids skills to rebuild the world.”
  • “Share books that promote reconciliation and understanding.”


We then were lucky enough to see S.E. Hinton speak. She was the perfect mix of funny and insightful and thoughtful and blunt.

  • “First half of my life people thought I was male; the second half they thought I was dead.”
  • “No better writing teacher than Jane Austen and the library is free.”
  • “I wrote The Outsiders because I  was upset about the social situation at my high school.”
  • “If you don’t write because you don’t know who is going to read/publish it, you’re not a writer. Focus on writing.”
  • “I flunked reading/writing when I was writing The Outsiders.”
  • “I used initials for first reviewers to keep bias out.”
  • “Don’t think your enthusiasm doesn’t matter. Even if students may not like something, enthusiasm spreads.”
  • “I couldn’t teach because couldn’t leave the kids at school. I would take them home with me & worry.”
  • “Writing a screenplay is writing a coloring book where actors, directors, & others add color. Communal story telling.”
  • The Outsiders is what it is because of when I wrote it.”

On Sunday night with the ALAN cocktail party, the festivities officially began! The cocktail party is a free event for attendees of ALAN that give the authors and attendees time to mingle before the workshop begins on Monday. Thank you to the publishers who host the cocktail party!

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Monday started with a bang! A.S. King was the key note speaker followed by Matt de la Peña. Both speakers blew away the audience with their truth about the state of our country, the importance of literature, and a focus on love.

A.S. King

  • “I was often told to be more normal.”
  • “I thank my 9th grade teacher for allowing me to write a 1st person narrative from the POV of a specific can of succotash.”
  • “My characters’ voices are in my head and go out my fingers.”
  • “I plan nothing. My process is based solely on trust in a very untrustworthy world.”
  • “No matter what I do in life I’ll be doing it as a woman and that will piss some people off.”
  • “Rejection letters taught me that woman are not supposed to be weird.”
  • “Teachers know how to assess. You are in a contact state of assessment. You are teachers!”
  • “People who make THE TEST are not even educators! Teachers’ jobs have grown more challenging.”
  • “Relevant contemporary novels are not dangerous. No where as dangerous as thinking that all kids should learn the same.”
  • “Failure is spectacular for risk takers! Risk takers are test proof.”
  • “Innovation is the child of necessity.”
  • “Classrooms are shelters for figurative tornadoes all around us.”
  • “Education is being bought and sold while poverty is crushing the souls of our children.”
  • “Write a common core of compassion and put it into every lesson.”

Matt de la Peña

  • “Everyone has things they are proud of & wear on their sleeve & have things they are ashamed of. What makes us human.”
  • “I want to go into schools where there is no one like me to show them there are people like me.”
  • “Favorite thing about being home is reading books to my daughter.”
  • He then read to us a story called LOVE which I cannot wait to see in completion form.

I must also mention what I felt was one of the most moving and powerful moments of the ALAN workshop: The Get Lit Poets. Four teens joined us and performed poetry for us that is incomparable to much I have heard before. Visit their YouTube channel to view their work.


One of the highlights on the Monday of the ALAN workshop is always the Walden Award presentation. This year’s award was given to All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely with the honors given to All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, and Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin. Chair Mark Lechter asked each author (all were able to attend but Jennifer Niven) to discuss the concept of hope.

Jason Reynolds

  • “Hope is not self fulfilling.”
  • “Just because you say you have hope doesn’t mean you do. It is not cerebral; it exists in the gut.”
  • “Hope is thrown around so much, it doesn’t mean much any more. You have to do something.”
  • “Students want to have these discussions, they just need somewhere to have them.”
  • “Do something. Earn it. Every day.”
  • “This book came out of their friendship. This is what it looks like. It can happen.”

Brendan Kiely

  • “Tricky to talk about race and racism as a white person. But necessary.”
  • “But it is incredibly important to think about our accountability to threatened communities.”
  • “Hope is action.”
  • “Identity politics are civil rights. Let’s go out there and BE hope.”
  • “First need to deconstruct the part of me that is the problem so I can be part of the hope.”
  • “Hope is the kind of road that I travel to find and share love.”
  • “Love and love and love. I want to write in search of hope.”

Neal Shusterman

  • “So many books about mental illness only show the dark side; this novel shows light.”
  • “When you start to spiral, remember there is hope.”

Ashley Hope Pérez

  • “Hope is not about happy endings. Not about naive optimism. Hope is about particular orientation to the future”
  • “Hope depends on the reader, and the work the reader is willing to do.”
  • “Hope in seeing the character’s resilience.”
  • “Giving tiny seeds of hope for readers to go the future that we really want to have.”

Ryan Graudin

  • “Hope is not an emotion. It is a force. It is the call to take action.”
  • “We need something to keep us going. That is what hope is.”


My author panel was the last of the day Tuesday and was a wonderful exclamation point at the end of a workshop that many of us will never forget. My panel focused on re-imagining love stories with Kristin Elizabeth Clark, Kenneth Oppel, Bill Konigsberg, and Brendan Kiely. Each of their love stories is a deviation to the traditional, and we focused on that during the moderated discussion.

  • “Love is love. It all feels the same on the inside.” -Kristin Elizabeth Clark
  • “I wanted to celebrate rush of first love & make it more complicated than Romeo & Juliet.” -Kenneth Oppel
  • “I’m always looking for the love story that hasn’t been written yet. | I’m exploring what youngest generation is doing with labels. I learn the most from them.” -Bill Konigsberg
  • “The one purpose of life is to learn how to love & hold onto it. | It [Last True Love Story] is a dual love story; It is a journey of teens falling in love & end of life, holding onto love.” -Brendan Kiely

Mixed in with these panels and speakers were panel after panel and speaker after speaker of authors and educators and editors sharing their passion. Search #ALAN16 or @ALANorg on Twitter to view some of the amazing insights shared. Here are some more of my favorite quotes from both days:

  • “The word diversity needs to be replaced with American.” and “Don’t hide behind the canon. We have robust literature that represents all teens now.” -Laurie Halse Anderson  (while wearing her GOT CONSENT? t-shirt)
  • “Urban fiction is a label to say the book is a little bit dangerous. We need to be self aware that the label Urban sweeps cultures under the rug. Erases identity.  Using the term URBAN FICTION is simplifying things. And anything easy should be thought about.” -Jason Reynolds
  • “Whatever the setting it, it is vitally important to humanize every single character on the page.” -Ibi Zoboi
  • “Soon the only thing mentioned on vocab tests and in schools about American Indians will be the term extinct.” -Tim Tingle
  • “There are many of us [Native Americans]. We write nation specific. We all have diff cultures. What we have in common is genocide.” -Eric Gansworth
  • “Challenge of writing Vincent Van Gogh’s life was figuring out how reliable he was as a narrator” -Deborah Heiligman
  • “Writing fiction is like baking a cake with best ingredients from store; nonfiction like baking with what your partner brings home.” -Candace Fleming
  • “Humans are good that way. If you love something hard enough, it rubs off onto others.” -Maggie Stiefvater
  • “I like young people to understand that adults are just people. They are flawed. | Risks aren’t in the situations; it is in creating characters who are real. Writing a kid who’s an amazing human being, a character who is real, beautiful, absolutely sincere, is the risk. ” -Benjamin Alire Saenz
  • “Cave paintings show creativity is as important to the human necessity as food & air. Creativity is an elemental human trait.” -Jeff Zentner
  • “Art brings together people. And gives us a world point of view.” -Kayla Cagan
  • “Women’s stories disappear, and it can be hard to rebel. Better to see a female fight and lose than never fight at all. Every girl deserves a hero of their own.  | Fiction and stories have shaped human existence.” -Frances Hardinge
  • “It’d be a shame to not swim in the sea of stories.” Peadar O’Guilin
  • “Not all art is going to be seen as beautiful by all.” -Rahul Kanakia
  • “There are no limits to what books are suppose to be.” -Randi Pink
  • “I want readers to be enraged, to empathize with characters & advocate anywhere they see injustice.” -Patricia Powell
  • “There is a difference between failing and being a failure.” -David Arnold

Noah Schaffer kindly took so many photos while attending the ALAN workshop, and he has shared them publicly with us on Facebook. Join the ALAN Public Group to view them (and LIKE our ALAN Page ( while you are on there!).

Like NCTE, ALAN allows me to see many authors that I love!


A.S. King
Jason Reynolds
Jon Sciezska
Candace Fleming
Maggie Stiefvater
Benjamin Alire Saenz
Peadar O’Guilin
Ryan Graudin
Brendan Kiely


And Trent visited! Trent with:
Brendan Kiely
Kenneth Oppel
Bill Konigsberg
Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Neal Shusterman

Probably my favorite part of the two days though are my time with my friends who truly support and push me as the educator I am and hope to become. I am always terrible about getting photos of everyone (including one with Ricki!), but here are the ones I took.

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With Michele Knott and Jennie Smith


Trent with:
Cathy Blackler
Jennie Smith
Jen Ansbach
Katie Halata

Until next year, friends! Will I see you there? 


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