Unleashing Readers and Kid Lit Frenzy 2014 Mock Sibert Award Winner!


Mock Sibert Button

It is just days until we learn what book takes home the coveted Sibert Award, but today is the day here on Unleashing Readers and over on Kid Lit Frenzy where we find out who won our Mock Sibert Award!!!

*drum roll*



What a phenomenal choice!
Now we just have to wait until Monday to find out if the Sibert committee agrees.

We are also happy to announce our giveaway winner. Congratulations to LYNNE EICHEL who chose Brave Girl as her prize.

I had such a blast hosting the Mock Sibert with Alyson!
Thank you to all who participated and cannot wait to see who wins on Monday!


Unleashing Readers and Kid Lit Frenzy 2014 Mock Sibert Award Picks


Mock Sibert Button

Over the past two years, Alyson has hosted, and Kellee has participated in, a book challenge pushing ourselves to read more nonfiction picture books. This year, after reading many of the best nonfiction picture books published in 2013, we decided that it would be fun to do a Mock Sibert Award post together.

The Sibert Award is given annually to the most distinguished informational book published during the preceding year. Although the Sibert Award is not just for picture books, we are going to focus on the nonfiction picture books we feel would be honored or win this year. To be honored/win the Sibert Award, the book must include these important elements and qualities:

Excellent, engaging, and distinctive use of language.
Excellent, engaging, and distinctive visual presentation.
Appropriate organization and documentation.
Clear, accurate, and stimulating presentation of facts, concepts, and ideas.
Appropriate style of presentation for subject and for intended audience.
Supportive features (index, table of contents, maps, timelines, etc).
Respectful and of interest to children.

After reviewing the qualities and elements needed to win the Sibert Award, I chose the following six titles from 2013 that I hope will win or be honored on January 27th. Check out Kid Lit Frenzy, as well, to see what Alyson chose as her picks.

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We would also love your input!
Which of our ten titles do you think will win the Sibert?
Check out the results to find out what book you thought should win.

All of my choices are respectful and of interest to children, have clear and accurate presentation of facts and ideas, and use excellent, engaging, and distinctive language; however, they are all distinct in their own way.

I am sucker for this biographical picture book for two reasons: 1) I had not known about the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 before and I love learning about new historical moments. I know that it interested me (as I know it would for kids), because after I read the additional information about the garment industry I was on the internet searching for more information. 2) Clara is such a great example of girl power! AND she is a historical figure that shows girls (and boys) that girls can stand up for themselves when they are not being treated well (in real life). I love that she overcame so much to not only stand up for her rights, but also to get an education and take care of her family. What an amazing person to learn about.

When it comes to the Sibert Award, Brave Girl not only is written beautifully and engages the reader through text and illustrations, it also documents Clara’s life in a unique way that makes it different than other narrative biographies.

dust bowl

Ever since I read Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, I’ve loved learning about this scary time in American history (also, the danger hasn’t ceased just because it happens less often). This book does a beautiful job of taking this time in history and laying it out for the reader so that it is very easy to understand. It includes background about the geographical area, information about the Depression, and then takes you through the Dust Bowl all the way to modern days. So interesting!

Graphic novels have not been honored before from the Sibert committee, but I feel this one stands out. It is so well done! It engages readers about an important time in American history by including narratives, information, and supportive features (maps, timelines).


I love how the author so cleverly combined Erdos’s story and mathematics without ever overloading the story with numbers. This book is so much fun (and the colorful illustrations add even more playfulness to it) yet teaches so much within its story.  What impresses me the most is just how much the book makes you think about math, want to learn more math, and want to play with numbers. Even in book form, Erdos is making math understandable.

The author’s distinctive use of language by using math throughout really makes it stand above and beyond other nonfiction books from 2013.

on a beam

I love how this book focuses on how Albert’s creativity is one of the keys to what made him the amazing scientist that he is. Also, as a teacher of struggling and gifted students, I love the focus on how he didn’t do well in school. It shows how just because a student is different or a disturbance or thinks differently doesn’t mean that they aren’t intelligent. The book definitely promotes wonderings, thinking, and imagination!  I also loved learning about the fun side of Einstein and how he likes to not wear socks, he liked to eat ice cream cones, and overall he just did what he want to have time to think. Finally, the Author’s Note puts all of Einstein’s theories together so that the reader also gets this information.

I think this one is especially respectful and of interest to children who read it and will make them more interested in Einstein.


World War II is the most infamous war and it is taught to all students at some point in their career. They learn about Pearl Harbor and the Atomic Bomb and the Holocause and Hitler, but way too often what happened here in the US is not discussed. All of the Japanese Americans living on the West Coast of the US (62% were US citizens) were interned because our fear overwhelmed us so much that it was the only solution that seemed plausible. I felt that the fear that was felt after the Pearl Harbor bombings is very similar to what was felt 12 years ago today. Barbed Wire Baseball does discuss the internment camps, but I think that the theme of this book is not about the camps but about how a love of something can turn a poor situation into something else if you are determined. The story is just one part of the book. What moves it to a higher level is the author and illustrator. Marissa Moss has someone captured the tone of the story. It begins with hopefulness then to hopelessness and finally back to joyousness. Her ability to manipulate the tone throughout makes the story touch the reader even more.

Yuko Shimizu’s illustrations are done with a Japenese calligraphy brush and ink adding to the connection the reader will feel with the story. His visual presentation is distinctive and engaging. Just beautiful.


I learned so much reading this book. My friend Amanda actually read it first and kept yelling out the facts because they are just so interesting; obviously students would find them interesting as well. On top of it just being interesting, this book is a little book of gold! It is a perfect combination of reading, math, and science! Also, the illustrations are just so well done! Throughout the book, scientific facts about animals are shared with the reader (all with numbers) and then in the end of the book Lola Schaefer also shares with the reader even more information about the animals, how to find an average, and other math facts.  And not once does the book even feel a bit boring.

Lifetime is informational nonfiction completely while the other books are narratives (or include narrative elements). However, it is still has distinctive, excellent language and the illustrations add an amazing extra element to the text.

Now which of mine, or Alyson’s, books do you think should win or be honored by the Sibert committee? Check out the results to find out which book was chosen as our Mock Sibert Winner.


Kellee’s 2013 NCTE/ALAN Reflection



NCTE was a different experience for me this year than in the past. It is usually a conference filled with me soaking in the knowledge of the brilliance around me. This year, I was lucky enough to be part of two different presentations and then I had some ALAN duties I had to fulfill. Because of this I was not able to attend as many sessions as normal or spend as much time in the exhibit hall as normal, but after leaving, I feel that I got as much out of the conference, just a different something than normal.


Day 1 of the conference! I jumped right in by attending a very interesting session: “What Research Suggests About Videogames and the Future of Teaching English.” Like the title states, it was mostly about research and not about actually implementing this research in the classroom, but the research was fascinating (Over 97% of youth play video games; Video games are associated with critical thinking, motivation, gratification, social capital, and academic material; Video games include complex literacies) and I took some emails so I could learn more about implementing. Following the session, I went to the “Elementary Level Get Together” where I ran into some Nerdy friends.


Yes, I know I am not elementary, but Jarrett Krosoczka was speaking at this get together and I wanted to hear him and I am so glad that I did! He was engaging yet thought provoking. He shared with us his reading journey which led to his writing journey (Jarrett shared a similar talk at TED which you can view: here).


Thursday my roommate Mindi also arrived and it was so nice to have some company! She took such good care of me while we were in Boston (being pregnant and gallivanting around can be very tiring). 


Friday was by far my busiest day! I was so exhausted by the end. First, I attended “Building Trust: Communication and the Teacher/Literacy Coach Relationship” to help with the transition into my new position. The speakers had had great success with coaching at their institutions, so I was happy to be able to hear some of the strategies that they employed.  Directly following this presentation it was time for my presentations (back-to-back!). First was “Rethinking Picture Books: Harnessing the Power of Nonfiction for Older Students” with the amazing Beth Shaum, Jen Vincent, and author Audrey Vernick.

picture books

The room was packed, which was so nice to see!

picture bookspacked

We all had such a great time sharing our experiences with using picture books with older students. You can view our presentation here.  Then I transferred my stuff to a room down the hall for the Nerdy round table session “Relevance, Relationships, and Reading Lives: Fostering Students’ Reading Engagement.” This session was also packed (nervous again!).


My round table presentation was titled “Helping Struggling Readers Find Their Inner Reader” and focused on strategies that can be used to help struggling readers find joy in reading. This presentation can be viewed here and I shared some other resources on my slideshare account.


I need to stop here just to say that I am so thankful for being able to be part of these presentations and for anyone who wants to hear what I have to say. Teaching is my passion and my heart and I am constantly trying to be the best teacher I can be. In these presentations I shared some of my teaching journey and I am so honored that there are educators who want to hear what I have to say. Thank you to anyone who was there or anyone who views the slideshares. I am just happy that I have you on this journey with me. After the presentations I needed a bit of relaxation so I went and visited the exhibit hall which is always filled with so much book love! Then later that night was the Nerdy Round Up! Although I spent only 30 minutes there (so tired!), it was so wonderful to see so many of my friends! My #ncte13 regret is not taking enough pictures of these great people.

nerdy round up


Saturday started out with a bang: the ALAN breakfast! At the ALAN breakfast, Judy Blume received the ALAN award and then Walter Dean Myers was our speaker—who could have asked for a better set of speakers?! They were so inspiring!


At the breakfast it was so nice to see many of my friends as well including Ricki (before she left!), the Walden committee, and Gae Polisner.

Following the breakfast, I tried to attend Chris Lehman’s closer reading or the rock star packed Skill and Will session, but both were too full, so I lived vicariously through Twitter (search #skillandwill or @ichrislehman on 11/23 for some of the goodies). Then I had some ALAN duties which packed my afteroon, but I was able to go to one more session that night: “Sifting Through Technology: Choosing the Best Tools.” I was happy to realize that my school is already using most of the tools they mentioned, but I did learn about Little Bird Tales for digital storytelling, Mindomo for mind maps, We Video to make and share videos, Make Beliefs Comix to create comics, and Voice Thread for sharing presentations—all which I can bring back to school. That night, following a lovely dessert with Jillian Heise, Sarah Anderson, Brian Wyzlic, and Mindi Rench, we attended Catching Fire hosted by Scholastic. MAN! What a movie! A nice end to Saturday. 


Sunday started with visiting the exhibit hall quickly (needed to touch base with some publishers also didn’t want to be there during the CRAZINESS that happens on the last day) and I had to make sure to see Kate Messner (and I am so sad I missed Jo Knowles!).


Then the Scholastic Literary Brunch. This brunch is always one of the highlights for me as it was the first publisher anything I was ever invited to and it has become a yearly event. At the brunch, authors do readers theater presentations from their books—just a pleasant way to start a Sunday.

brunch1 brunch

Following the brunch, I had some more ALAN duties that went all the way to the ALAN Cocktail Reception. If you have never attended an ALAN workshop, the ALAN cocktail hour is really the red carpet time. Authors and publishers join us teachers and librarians for 90 minutes of mingling, food, and drinks. This is definitely the time that you can be a fangirl/guy and just go from author to author and chat and take photos. It is such a surreal experience! This year, I mostly just talked to Eliot Schrefer and my friends. 

mindi and me cocktail

Following the reception, I was lucky enough to be asked to attend the Random House Dinner (two of the authors on my ALAN panel are Random House authors). The dinner was phenomenal and I truly enjoyed getting to know Mariah Fredericks and Adele Griffin who are such delights. At the dinner, I even got to introduce myself to Judy Blume and we took a fantastic photo together. What a day!



The ALAN workshop is such a special thing to attend! ALAN is the only organization that focuses completely on literature for adolescents and these two days celebrate that.  It is such a fantastic experience.


Yesterday, Mindi and I shared our ALAN joy on the Nerdy Book Club blog by sharing the top 10 authors we were most excited to see at ALAN. I think this post really captures the essence of ALAN, so check it out.

Between the Nerdy post and my planned post on Thursday at my wonderful panel on Tuesday, I do not have much to add though I will share some of my highlights from each day:


1. Jack Gantos (see Nerdy post)
2. The “Celebrating Humor” panel: David Macginnis Gill was the moderator and he asked the most hilarious questions!
3. The “Celebrating Dystopia” panel: Although none of these authors (Neal Shusterman, Cristin Terrill, Jeff Hirsch, Kristen Simmons) ended up on our Nerdy post, they were definitely in the debate. Here are some quotes from their presentation:

  • Books that influenced them: How I Live Now, The Giver, House of The Scorpions, 1984
  • Shusterman influenced (for Unwind) by the idea that soon they will be able to use 100% of our body for transplants.
  • Hirsch was influenced by watching the news and getting more and more angry.
  • This isn’t a perfect world. The problem is a those who think it is. -Shusterman
  • The process starts with the concept, but what becomes most important are the characters. They have to be real. -Neal Shusterman
  • Cristin Terrill re-imagined the Terminator as the good guy–and a high school girl.
  • Dysopian novels are ultimately about hope. Characters are empowered to change the world. -Shusterman
  • Teenagers feel oppressed, so they connect to dystopian characters who survive and thrive and become a hero helps then through their own tough times. -Kristen Simmons

4. Chris Crutcher (see Nerdy post)
20131125_132123 [standing ovation!]
7. Walden Panel with honorees Benjamin Alire Saenz, A.S. King, and Eliot Schrefer (see Nerdy post)



1. Laurie Halse Anderson (see Nerdy post)
20131126_081525 [standing ovation!]
2. The “Celebrating Science Fiction” panel: The authors on this panel (Alexander Gordon Smith, Michael Grant, Anna Jarzab, Tom Leveen) were just very interesting.

  • Wrote horror to deal with the bad. Horror teaches us to survive. -Gordon Smith
  • Students: read whatever the hell you want to read. -Michael Grant

3. The “Celebrating Horror and Supernatural” panel: Another panel with a very clever moderator who asked questions like, “What was the recipe for your novel?”
4. The “Celebrating International Voices” panel: Always interesting to learn about the world
5. The “Celebrating LBGTQ” panel: A) Nancy Gardner, B) All of the other books sound fascinating! (If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan, The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi, Branded by the Pink Triangle by Ken Setterington)
6. Ellen Hopkins: Always a great advocate for writing/reading about the hard stuff.
7. MY PANEL!!! “Celebrating Strong Females” with Mariah Fredericks, Tupelo Hassman, Paul Rudnick, Adele Griffin: My post on Thursday will go into more depth about these novels and authors

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These 6 days are always a highlight of my year and this year, although different, is no exception!
I hope you can join us in 2014 in DC!!


Walden Award Winner!: A Review


Today we are happy to share our review of the winner of the

2013 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award!


The Fault in our Stars
Author: John Green
Published January 10th, 2012 by Dutton Books

Summary: Hazel has been preparing to die since she was thirteen and was diagnosed with Stage IV Thyroid Cancer. Now, she is sixteen, a modern medical miracle and living with the side effects of the medication and of the cancer. Hazel finds herself between the levels of normalcy and dying. When she meets Augustus Waters, she begins to feel normal for the first time in a long time. Through this amazing friendship, both Hazel and Augustus learn how to truly live.

Ricki’s Review: Every once in a while, a book comes around that changes you. Admittedly, I am a huge fan of John Green and am always biased toward his books. While others may not agree with me, I would argue that this is definitely his best work. I have twenty books on my “favorite books” shelf, and this addition was a no-brainer. (I won’t tell you which one I removed to put this one on the shelf.) The characters are intelligent and witty, and I was continually laughing out loud. This book sends readers on a roller-coaster of emotions. It is the first book in a long time that made me truly feel a sense of catharsis. And Augustus recognizes my emotions as both worthy and real: “‘That’s the thing about pain,’ Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. ‘It demands to be felt'” (p. 63). The language and word choice make dozens of pages flag-worthy, and teachers will love doing close readings with this text. It is liquid gold for classroom teachers.

This is not a predictable cancer story because it is incredibly honest. Hazel recognizes the “perks” she gets as a cancer patient, and she has no trouble admitting that she doesn’t really have friends. When she goes shopping with her one female friend, she secretly wants to be anti-social and pull out a book to read. But when she meets Augustus, everything changes. If you haven’t read this book yet, be grateful–I am envious of you because I want to read this book again for the first time

Kellee’s Review: I’ll be honest—I had a really hard time writing a review of this book. I just don’t know if I am going to be able to do it justice. It is one of those books that as you read, there are so many good things and so much you love, and you know that it is something so special. Even now, as I sit here, I don’t know what to say. I know that I wish that it was more appropriate for middle schoolers so I could share it with more students, I know that it is a book that everyone should read, and I know that it is a book that I am glad to be sharing.

The Fault in our Stars is not only an emotional and funny book, it is beautifully written. As I read, I knew I wanted to mark quotes for a review, but it was hard to find a page to not mark.


John Green has a way with words. If you have read anything by him, you know what I am talking about. I think what makes this book even more powerful is that it is a combination of John Green’s voice and a deep, amazing story. Put the two together, and you get a masterpiece.

Discussion Questions: Hazel has a book that is her favorite and means so much to her; what book do you love that you could not live without? Choose your favorite line or quote from the book and discuss why  you connected with it so much.; Who is someone who made an impression on you but who you have lost touch with?

We Flagged: “Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read that book” (p. 33).

“It wasn’t even that the book was so good or anything; it was just that the author, Peter Van Houten, seemed to understand me in weird and impossible ways. An Imperial Affliction was my book, in the way my body was my body and my thoughts were my thoughts” (p. 36).

“My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations” (p. 311).

Read This If You Loved: Looking for Alaska by John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, The Survival Kit by Donna Freitas, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Recommended For: 

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Have you read The Fault in our Stars? Did it affect you the way that it did us? 

RickiSig andSignature

Walden Award 2014 Finalists: Reviews


Today, we are excited to review the three Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists, and tomorrow, we can’t wait to review the winner! Please join us in the celebration of these three extraordinary texts which are very deserving of this recognition. We’ll see you tomorrow for our review of the winner!



Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Published February 21st, 2012 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Aristotle is an angry teen who doesn’t have friends until he meets Dante. Through Dante, he learns about friendship, life, and loyalty. These two boys develop an unbreakable bond that helps them discover themselves.

Kellee’s Review: So beautifully written. This is one of those books that you want to tell everyone to read because it is so literary and lyrical. While reading, I felt I had to keep stopping to take notes because I had so much I wanted to share with you all; Aristotle & Dante reminded me of John Green’s characters in that way. His characters are so intelligent, the voice so pure and mesmerizing, and the story so enthralling- all aspects of a literary young adult novel. I am not surprised at all of the awards that Aristotle & Dante took home from the ALA Awards as it deserved each and every one of them (Stonewall Book Award, Printz Honor, Pura Belpre Author Award). I know this seems mighty gushy, but I really fell in love with this novel.

There were so many passages throughout that could be used for exemplar pieces of writing (specifically while reading I picked up on the literary devices, characterization, and voice) and can be used to practice reading strategies.  The book might not automatically be popular because I could see students thinking it was pretty slow because it is more character-driven than plot-driven. It is about Aristotle & Dante growing up and finding themselves (once again, reminds me a bit of a John Green Novel). Though I can see students who give it a chance being as touched by the book as I am.

Ricki’s Review: This beautiful, quiet book is well-deserving of all of the awards it has received. The characters are very special and will stick with readers long after the last page. Adolescents will identify with the boys’ feelings of loneliness and longing, and will be carried away by the magic of their friendship. Saenz’s lyrical language is strong and powerful, delivering undeniable messages to the readers. Readers will grow with Aristotle and Dante and learn what it means to be accepted, to be loyal, and to be a good person.

When I read this book for the first time, I wondered if it would appeal to all types of readers as the beautiful language takes precedent over an action-filled plot. We chose it for our school’s book club before it won the awards, so I was unsure about the students’ reaction. They absolutely adored the characters, and it was one of the most well-received books we’ve done in book club. This text would make for a great choice for literature circles, book clubs, and close analysis, as the language is remarkable.

Discussion Questions: Aristotle and Dante love to make up stories about the people on the bus (see p. 21); go and sit outside where you can people watch and spontaneously write short stories about a handful of them.; What does it mean to be alone? Can another person cure loneliness, or is it something that must be healed from within?; What makes a good friend? What makes a good person?; How do your family dynamics influence who you are as a person?

We Flagged:  “I felt alone, but not in a bad way. I really liked being alone. Maybe I liked it too much. Maybe my father was like that too. I thought of Dante and wondered about him.  And it seemed to me that Dante’s face was a map of the world. A world without darkness. Wow, a world without darkness. How beautiful was that?” (p. 56)

Read This If You Loved: Personal Effects by EM Kokie, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Shine by Lauren Myracle, Ask the Passengers by A.S. King, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Recommended For: 

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Author: Eliot Schrefer
Published October 1st, 2013 by Scholastic Press

Summary: Sophie is a normal teenager who travels between her divorced parents who live in completely different cultural situations–her father has an office job in America and her mother runs a bonobo sanctuary in Congo. Though she was born in the Congo, the last few years have been spent in America with her father and return trips to her mother’s sanctuary. The book begins with Sophie waiting in a check point, where she spots a baby bonobo who is not being treated well and, against everyone’s wishes, she buys him.

Kellee’s Review: With Sophie’s purchase, Otto enters into her life and ours. He becomes the co-star of the book and begins to change Sophie’s feelings about being at the sanctuary. But then, right before she is about to leave, chaos at the hand of revolutionaries envelopes Congo and Sophie finds herself in a completely type of situation.

Now if you follow me here or on Twitter, you know that I am a sucker for ape books and I have been lucky that many people who care a lot about apes write some amazing ape books – this is a book to add to that list. It left me with even more of a passion for saving these animals who are our closest relative. I. Love. This. Book. It quickly moved into my favorites list even while I was only half way through with it. It is such a journey that you take with this young lady and the growth you see in her (and Otto) is incredible. On top of that, Eliot Schrefer is an author who not only can tell a good story, but he can help you become part of the story and visualize and feel everything that is happening. And I am not alone in this love. Endangered was a finalist for The National Book Award and Walden Award, Eliot Schrefer was a hit at the Scholastic Brunch at NCTE, and it is being gushed about on Twitter.

On top of all of this, I read it with my 8th graders this year and they adored it! Check out my End of (School) Year Reflection to see my reflections on teaching the novel as well as Skyping with Eliot.

Ricki’s Review: This is a beautifully crafted novel, one which will stick with me. I learned a lot about the horrors that exist within the war-torn country of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a place which I had limited knowledge about—but it also gave me a look into the life of bonobos. Each year, I give very few books a 5-star rating on GoodReads, but this one is well deserving. I wish I could give it more than five stars, to be frank. Eliot Schrefer does a brilliant job describing the powerful bond between humans and animals. There are so many elements of this text that teachers can use in the classroom that it feels like a gold mine. I’ve recommended it to adults and teens again and again—and with the confidence that I know they will appreciate the intricate beautiful of this novel. Endangered will always rank as one of the best books I have ever read. When my student returned this book, she handed it to me and paused. I waited in anticipation of her response, as she reads over a hundred books a year and is very critical. She chose her words slowly and carefully. “I don’t like animals, so I didn’t want to read this. You kept talking about it, so I finally decided to just go for it. This isn’t a book about animals, and really, it isn’t a book about war. It is a book that is about being human.”

Discussion Questions: Sophie makes many decisions throughout the book that many people, specifically her parents, would not have agreed with. Would you have made the same decisions as her? Were there any you would have done differently? Do you think her decisions were worth it? Use textual evidence to back your answers.; What does this book teach us about being human?; In what ways do the bonobos reflect humanity?; How does the war-torn setting add to this story?

We Flagged: “The man released the bonobo. The little ape sat down tiredly in the dirt and lowered his arms, wincing as his sore muscles relaxed. I kneeled and reached out to him. The bonobo glanced at his master before working up the energy to stand and toddle over to me. He leaned against my shin for a moment, then extended his arms to be picked up. I lift him easily and hugged himself to me, his fragile arms as light as a necklace. I could make out his individual ribs under my figures, could feel his heart flutter against my throat. He pressed his lips against my check , I guess to get as close as possible to my skin, and only then did I hear his faint cries; he’d been making them for so long that his voice was gone.” (p. 3-4)

Read This If You Loved: Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel, Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, The Chimpanzees I Love by Jane Goodall, Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelsen, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Faithful Elephants by Yukio Tsuchiya, Non-fiction books about bonobos or the Democratic Republic of Congo

Recommended For: 

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Ask the Passengers
Author: A.S. King
Published October 23rd, 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary: Astrid is very cerebral–she can get lost in philosophical theories and questions about the world. Her favorite pastime is laying on the bench in her backyard so she can send her love to the passengers on the airplanes that fly overhead. At her catering job, Astrid meets Dee, and she falls in love. She isn’t sure if this makes her a lesbian, as she has never loved another girl, and society wants to fit her in a box that she isn’t quite sure describes her.

Kellee’s Review: I am fascinated with the setting of this book. It seems like a perfect place to live, but really everyone is living a lie. It reminds me a bit of “Stepford Wives.” What a sad existence. Maybe I am (the opposite of) sheltered because my parents and my friends always supported me to be who I am. However, because of King’s perfect depiction of Astrid’s experiences, it transplants me right into Astrid’s shoes.

Besides the setting, the characters are what makes this book a star. Astrid is a character that every reader will connect with in one way or another: she doesn’t exactly fit in though she doesn’t stick out, she has a secret she feels like she can’t tell anyone, and as a teenager she doesn’t exactly get along with her family. While Astrid is strong, so are the secondary characters. You know that if you want to jump into a book and just go off on a character that the author has done their job (UGH! The mom will drive you crazy too!).  This book would not move without its secondary characters; although Astrid is our protagonist, it is the secondary characters that drive much of the story. It is amazing how all of the characters are so fleshed out.

Finally, like all King novels, the way it is written just adds that element that pushes this book to being an award winner. King’s ability to give her characters a voice is phenomenal. Each of her novels have such a unique personality and she is able to give them each a unique voice. She also adds humor and intelligence to each of her books.

Ricki’s Review: Astrid’s character felt very real to me. Despite the heartache and lack of love in her own life, she manages to send all of her love to people she doesn’t even know–strangers in the sky. I can’t help but peer up at airplanes now and send my love to the passengers. Astrid is not a typical high school student. She lives by her principles and stays true to herself amidst the pressures that teens face. She is an unbelievable role model for both adolescents and adults.

Astrid teaches us to give our love away when we aren’t feeling any ourselves. She connects herself with complete strangers when those who are closest to her are emotionally failing her. Teens will learn to reach out and grasp love in the most unconventional places. The warmth that emanates from this book makes it incredibly special.

Discussion Questions: How do the passengers’ stories add to the richness of this text?; How does the setting influence aspects of the book?; Does society expect us to fit into neat boxes with labels?; What complications exist in Astrid’s life? Which coping mechanisms does she use to relieve her pain? Which other coping mechanisms might she use?

We Flagged: “I mean to say: Everybody’s always looking for the person they’re better than.” (page 231)

Read This If You Loved: Please Ignore Vera Deitz by A.S. King, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Personal Effects by E.M. Kokie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Luna by Julie Anne Peters, Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

Recommended For: 

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Which of these finalists have you read? What did you think of them?
We’re so excited to review the winner tomorrow!

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Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award


Award Seal

 Last week, we were thrilled to announce the finalists for the 2013 Walden Award, and today, we wanted to share more about the award and the committee.

Background of the Award

The Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award was established in 2008 and is presented by ALAN (The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE) yearly. The award honors Amelia Elizabeth Walden, a pioneer in the field of young adult literature. The criteria for the award is that the honored titles must: possess a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and strong literary merit.  What makes the award different from  ALA’s Printz, for example, is that although literary merit is important, the book needs to meet the other two criteria as well.

The Committee

Ricki’s Experiences

When I first heard about the committee at the ALAN Workshop, I knew I wanted to apply. I thought it was a long-shot, but I submitted my application and was thrilled to be accepted. I knew some of the other members on the committee, and I was so excited to work with such important, knowledgeable individuals.

Opening up the first box of books was very exciting. I could wait to review and discuss them. I’ll admit—it was hard work. In the beginning, I had to schedule reading time (something I’d never done before because I was always a voracious reader), and that first year, I think I drove my husband nuts. While I felt my stacks of books were very organized, he didn’t enjoy that he had to walk through a maze of books to get from our bedroom to the bathroom. I should also add that he didn’t enjoy that I was up until three in the morning most nights, waking him up as I sobbed or laughed at a scene from a book. I have always read an excessive number of books, but these past few years, I have truly learned the meaning of the phrase: There is ALWAYS time to read.

Being on the committee has been like a second job for me, but it is equally as rewarding as teaching. I have read more than I ever thought I could read. We discussed, discussed, and discussed each of the books. I reread books until I began to know their lines by heart. The books became a part of me, as I had spent hours looking at every aspect of them as we exchanged conversations about each of them. I have always been willing to give any book of any genre a try, but now, I find myself eagerly looking for more variety in my reading. I love to find books in new topics or subgenres because I have learned so much from the books I’ve read on the committee. This year is my fifth (and last) year on the committee, where I served as the past chair. I am sad to part ways, as the committee has become a major part of my life. I’ve formed so many close bonds with wonderful individuals (after all—were it not for this committee, I wouldn’t have found Kellee!), and I have truly loved the hundreds upon hundreds of conversations I have had with my colleagues about the incredible books that were submitted.

Kellee’s Experiences

I first heard about the Walden award at my first ALAN workshop where I was lucky enough to see Kristin Cashore receive the award for Fire. I was currently in love with The Monstrumologist series, so I knew that the award was something I needed to keep my eye on. Then in 2011, I saw a call for applications tweet come from Teri Lesesne to become part of the award committee, and I immediately went to ALAN’s website to learn more. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I, a normal teacher from Florida, could become part of this amazing procedure. I could be part of reviewing books and choosing which book deserves that coveted award sticker. So, I applied, and voila! I got to be part of this amazing committee.

Like Ricki, receiving the books was such a treat! Though, I surprised myself, because I actually ended up being more excited about the process than the actual quantities of books. I got caught up in the reading and recording and discussing. Though sometimes it is a lot of work, it is so worth it! And yes, it includes lots and lots of reading, but it is so, so, so worth it. Being at the ALAN workshop last year to meet authors who were honored partially because of being—AMAZING! 

Being on the committee has changed my life. It has helped me become a larger part of ALAN, it has helped me meet more authors, and, probably most importantly, it has helped me connect with colleagues (and friends!!! *cough* Ricki) that I will have as part of my life forever.

Award Recipients




 1583449 3236307 2213661 1237574





 0-545-05474-5 6457229 3238153 6400654





0-439-83706-5 7661718 6763730 6621146





7824322 9266762 9917938 8423931



12000020 13069935 13591678 11870085

Finalists (Winner to be Announced Shortly)

Committee Members

Past and Current Chairs

Wendy Glenn (2009), Daria Plumb (2010), Teri Lesesne (2011), Ricki Ginsberg (2012), Lois Buckman (2013)

Past and Current Committee Members

Carolyn Angus, Mary Arnold, Jonatha Basye, cj Bott, Jean Boreen, Jennifer Buehler, Paul Hankins, Jeff Harr, Jeff Kaplan, Bonnie Kunzel, Mark Letcher, Suzanne Metcalfe, Kellee Moye, Mindi Rench, Lois Stover, Diane Tuccillo, Barbara Ward, Jennifer Walsh

Apply to Be on the Committee

 The committee is made up of three teachers, three librarians, three university professors, and one chair. The committee is looking to fill three vacancies (a teacher, a librarian, and a university professor).  Currently (and annually), ALAN calls for applications for new committee members and information can be found on their website: http://www.alan-ya.org/. The deadline for applications is September 15, 2013.

We hope we have helped you understand the joy of being part of this amazing committee. We wouldn’t trade our experiences for the world.  

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Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Finalists Announced and It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/15/13


Award Seal

Ricki and Kellee have been pleased to work on the 2013 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award committee. The award finalists were announced this morning. We will, of course, do a lengthier post about the finalists, but we couldn’t wait to share the list with you all:

2013 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Finalists Announced


And of course….



It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!

Jen Vincent, of Teach Mentor Texts, and Kellee decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too.

We encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting at least three of the other book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

Last Week’s Posts

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 **Click on any of the pictures to view the post*

Last Week’s Journeys

Ricki: Last week, I read And the Mountains Echoed by Khalid Hosseini–click the image above for the review. It was phenomenal. I also finished Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a book by Jesse Andrews that I started several weeks ago. I enjoyed this one but think I would enjoy it even more if I was an adolescent boy. Lastly, I have been working on preparing for the college classes I am teaching, so I read the first third of When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do  by Kylene Beers. I am enjoying it so much that it is making me want to go back to teaching high school so I can try out the new skills and strategies I am learning. It is making me rethink many of the practices of my classroom and is a GREAT text if you are looking to improve how you teach readers–struggling readers, in particular.

Kellee: This week was a different kind of reading week for me. Mostly, I read research for my book proposal.  Currently, I am reading articles about socioeconomic status, emotional intelligence, and lack of reading skills in struggling readers. To be honest, after reading for research, I really haven’t felt like reading for pleasure.  Like Ricki, I hope to pick up Kylene Beers’s When Kids Can’t Read for research soon.  I’ve read parts of it, but I know that it’ll be a great asset to my research.

The one book for pleasure I did read was a true winner though. Sidekicked by John David Anderson is just as great as all of the Walden Pond Press titles. I cannot wait to review it for you on Saturday as part of the Sidekicked blog hop!


This Week’s Expeditions

Ricki: I want to give a shout-out to USPS for forwarding some packages that were sent to my old address. Hooray! I received some great ARCs this week. I probably would have finished the Kylene Beers book if I hadn’t taken a quick peek of Patrick Ness’ More Than This. Whoops. Ness roped me in…so expect a review of More Than This on Thursday because I suspect I will finish it within the next day. Kellee and I hit our round of reading for the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award this week, so we’ll be rereading those books as well. I can’t wait to share the details of the award soon!

Kellee: Hm… First, I need to take what I’ve learned from the research I’ve done this week and transport that knowledge into my book proposal. That may take away from some of my reading time.  As for pleasure reading, I am STILL listening to David Sedaris’s newest. It is so hard to get through audiobooks when I am not driving as much because it is summer… I’ll also be rereading for the Walden Award (already started actually). Check out the link above to see the finalists!!  Next to that, it is going to be a surprise what I feel like. I’ll let you know next week.


Upcoming Week’s Posts

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 So, what are you reading?

Link up below and go check out what everyone else is reading.
Please support other bloggers by viewing and commenting on at least 3 other blogs.
If you tweet about your Monday post, tag the tweet with #IMWAYR!

Happy reading!

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