Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby


This week I am celebrating with my friend and author Ginny Rorby as she receives her award from the Florida Association for Media in Education (FAME) for winning the Sunshine State Young Readers Award (as voted by 6-8 grade students in Florida) for Lost in the River of Grass. To celebrate, I will be reviewing all of her books this week:


Hurt Go Happy
Author: Ginny Rorby
Published August 8th, 2006 by Starscape

Goodreads Summary: Thirteen-year-old Joey Willis is used to being left out of conversations. Though she’s been deaf since the age of six, Joey’s mother has never allowed her to learn sign language. She strains to read the lips of those around her, but often fails.

Everything changes when Joey meets Dr. Charles Mansell and his baby chimpanzee, Sukari. Her new friends use sign language to communicate, and Joey secretly begins to learn to sign. Spending time with Charlie and Sukari, Joey has never been happier. She even starts making friends at school for the first time. But as Joey’s world blooms with possibilities, Charlie’s and Sukari’s choices begin to narrow–until Sukari’s very survival is in doubt.

My Review and Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book is so important to me it is even hard to write this review. I have never written one because the book has become so personal to me that I didn’t know how to share my feelings. When I read Hurt Go Happy for the first time, I knew that it was the book that I wanted to share with every student I ever had.  Hurt Go Happy shows the importance of empathy for animals, for children and for people with disabilities.

Hurt Go Happy has become the number one community builder in my classroom.  After our state test and our Earth day activity with The Lorax we begin our read aloud of  Hurt Go Happy. (One of the saddest things about not being in the classroom this year is that I will not be able to have this moment with students.) Not only does the book give me opportunities to work with setting, characterization, cause/effect, prediction, compare/contrast, sequence, and analogies, throughout the book my class participates in conversations about deafness, sign language, chimpanzees, abuse, research facilities, animal abuse, wild animals as pets, survival, parents, school, death, fear, and their future. The conversations are so deep and wonderful.  But this is just the beginning.  Following the reading of the novel, my students are lucky enough to be able to take part in an interview with the author of  Hurt Go Happy, Ginny Rorby. The students generate the questions, vote on which ones to ask and even ask her the questions. Ginny even allows us to send her extra questions and answers them for my students.

The part that really makes students connect to the novel is the field trip that we go on.  At the end of the book, the setting changes to a rehab facility called The Center for Great Apes (@CFGA) which, while in the book was in Miami, has moved to Wauchula, FL which is 90 minutes from my school.  In the book, you even meet Noelle, a chimp who knows sign language, Kenya, another chimpanzee, and Christopher, an orangutan, who are actually at the center. It is an amazing experience to take the story and turn it into reality.

Hurt Go Happy is a book that I feel not only bring our class together but teaches my students some of the most important lessons for life: to care about every living thing.

Discussion Questions: I have many that would give spoilers, but here are my essential questions for the book: Do you think animal testing is necessary? Defend your answer.; How would being deaf affect your life? How does it affect Joey’s?

We Flagged: “Before she’d lost her hearing, she loved the whisper of wind through pines, and since she had no way of knowing how different it sounded in a redwood forest, the sight of branches swaying re-created the sound in her mind. Even after six and a half years of deafness, she sometimes awoke expecting her hearing to have returned, like her sight, with the dawn.” (p. 11)

Read This If You Loved: Endangered by Eliot Schrefer, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell, Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel, Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate

Recommended For: 

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See my extended review of Hurt Go Happy when celebrating the Schneider Award’s 10th birthday include an interview with Ginny Rorby!

Skinny Little Tree by Jayme Martin



Skinny Little Tree
Author: Jayme Martin
Published June 30th, 2013 by Outskirts Press

Goodreads Summary: “All the seasons are worth living…” May Skinny Little Tree, Wiggly Worms, and Little Leaves remind you that all the seasons of life are worth living.

Review: This is a fabulous book to teach children about the changing of seasons. A little boy approaches Skinny Little Tree and asks her whey she is smiling, weeping, worried, etc., and she tells him why she is feeling those emotions. She responds with an answer that shows she doesn’t understand how her environment changes as the seasons change. After each season, there is a workbook page that asks the reader to draw a different element of the plot. I imagine that kids would have a lot of great fun with this interactive text!

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This would be a great book to pair with a unit about the changing seasons or the emotions that we feel. I think kids would have a lot of fun with the interactive drawing sections. I’d love to see students write their own books from the perspective of a different inanimate object as it responds to the seasons changing. For example, a student might choose to write from the perspective of a pond as it goes through the seasons of a year.

It is reminiscent of many Eric Carle books, so teachers might find it valuable to pair them to teach author’s craft.

Discussion Questions: What changes does Skinny Little Tree experience as the seasons change? Which was your favorite season? Why?; What does Skinny Little Tree come to understand by the end of the book?; How does the repetition in this book add to the story?

We Flagged: “‘Skinny Little Tree, / why are you smiling at me?’ / ‘Because Wiggly Worms / are tickling my toes'” (p. 3-4).

Read This If You Loved: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? written by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Jayme Martin for providing me with this copy for review!**

Lost in the River of Grass by Ginny Rorby


This week I am celebrating with my friend and author Ginny Rorby as she receives her award from the Florida Association for Media in Education (FAME) for winning the Sunshine State Young Readers Award (as voted by 6-8 grade students in Florida) for Lost in the River of Grass. To celebrate, I will be reviewing all of her books this week.




Lost in the River of Grass
Author: Ginny Rorby
Published February 9th, 2011 by Carolrhoda Books

Goodreads Summary: “I don’t realize I’m crying until he glances at me. For a moment, I see the look of anguish in his eyes, then he blinks it away and slips off into the water. I immediately think of the gator. It’s still down there somewhere…”

A science-class field trip to the Everglades is supposed to be fun, but Sarah’s new at Glades Academy, and her fellow freshmen aren’t exactly making her feel welcome. When an opportunity for an unauthorized side trip on an airboat presents itself, it seems like a perfect escape—an afternoon without feeling like a sore thumb. But one simple oversight turns a joyride into a race for survival across the river of grass. They’re forced to walk out of the Everglades (they’ve got a knife, a small amount of Gatorade and some suspicious Spam). Sarah will have to count on her instincts—and a guy she barely knows—if they have any hope of making it back alive.

Lost in the River of Grass takes on the classic survival genre using one of the country’s most unique wild places as a backdrop. It is in the tradition of survival stories like Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain, where the young protagonist finds herself as she struggles to survive in an unforgiving wilderness. In this tense, character-driven thriller, Sarah must overcome prejudice and the unforgiving wilderness in a struggle to survive.

My Review: This is Ginny’s most human of a novel. It is about survival and finding the strength inside of yourself to stand up to anything- even something that has always terrified you. Throughout the novel, Sarah and Andy, who are lost in the Everglades, face things that are only in most of our nightmares. I learned, quite quickly, that I probably wouldn’t survive if I was lost in the river of grass. But Sarah, who is scared of EVERYTHING, grows up right in front of our eyes. This book made me gasp, cry, laugh- go through the cycle of emotions, but that is what makes a book so wonderful. Ginny Rorby knows how to write characters that the reader can connect with and this is no exception- Sarah is just a normal girl and Andy is just a normal boy, but through their journey they found out how extraordinary they are.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book is loved by students. I saw it when it was an SSYRA nominee—students devoured it and loved talking about the crazy survival moments and the surprise ending. Because of the love that students have for it, Lost in the River of Grass is perfect for classroom libraries and for read alouds.

Discussion Questions: Sarah is afraid of snakes.  How does she overcome her fear?  What are you afraid of? How could you overcome your fear?; What does Lost in the River of Grass teach us about prejudice?

We Flagged: “I onlly get a dozen feet ahead of him when my leg hits something hard and knobby. In a heart-stopping moment, I know it’s the gator, yet I can’t move. In my mind I see its pink throat and huge teeth coming up through the murky water. something brushes the back of my neck, and I scream.” (p. 72)

Read This If You Loved: Brian books by Gary Paulsen, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, Trapped by Michael Northrop, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong

Recommended For: 

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Congratulations again Ginny! You deserve it!


Top Ten Tuesday: Books We’d Recommend to Reluctant Readers


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: Top Ten Books We’d Recommend to ______ Readers

We decided to take our own spin on this topic and address different types of reluctant readers that are common in classrooms. We picked five categories and will give you our top picks in each category!

1. The Reluctant Reader Who Loves Sports

Ricki‘s Pick

Crackback by John Coy

My students LOVE this book. It is about a boy named Miles who finds out the other players on his football team are using steroids. He has to decide whether he has to join them if he wants to keep up with their strength. I have five copies of this book and they are always out.

Kellee‘s Pick

comeback kids

Comeback Kids (series) by Mike Lupica

My students really enjoy this series and they usually graduate from it to other Mike Lupica books. They love how he writes about sports, and I love that his books are well-written.

2. The Reluctant Reader Who Loves Action Movies

Ricki‘s Pick


Maze Runner by James Dashner

When Thomas wakes up, he can’t even remember his name. He is staring at a group of boys who are members of a world different than any he can remember. This book is full of action, and readers will find it difficult to put it down. I chose this title because students love the action scenes, but the book also has great depth.

Kellee‘s Pick


The Lightning Thief (series) by Rick Riordan

I’m still finding students who have not had the pleasure of reading Percy’s adventures, so it is always a go-to for me. If they struggle with the length, I can suck them in with the graphic novel adaptation.

3. The Reluctant Reader Who Loves Mysteries

Ricki‘s Pick


I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Jasper is the son of a famous serial killer, and when several bodies are discovered his town, he knows he is the only one who can think like a serial killer to solve the crimes. He decides to get involved to try to solve the mystery of the murders. My students love this book because it has equal parts violence and mystery. They are hooked from the very beginning!

Kellee‘s Pick


Amulet (series) by Kazu Kibuishi

This is by far the most loved series at my school with my students. They love to read them, reread them, discuss them, talk about them, anything! They adore these books. In Book One, join Emily and Navin to find out what/who has taken their mother.

4. The Reluctant Reader Who Wants to Try Urban Fiction

Ricki‘s Pick


Tyrell by Coe Booth

Tyrell lives with his mother and little brother in the projects of the South Bronx. This book forces readers to face the realities of urban life and is extremely popular in my classroom. Coe Booth’s writing is authentic, and the characters and setting feel very real to readers.

Kellee‘s Pick

ghetto cowboy

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri

I love this book and am so happy that so many of my reluctant readers have as well. Coltrane is sent to live with his absent father in Philadelphia and he is thrown into quite a different experience than he is used to.

5. The Struggling Reader Who Has Difficulty with Comprehension

Ricki’s Pick


Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper

After a car accident kills his best friend, Andy finds living to be very difficult. He is overwhelmed with his sense of guilt because he was behind the wheel. This book is short, but it has a great impact on my students. It is a powerful book with complex themes but accessible language.

Kellee‘s Pick

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Big Nate (series) by Lincoln Peirce

This category is hard for me as it would depend on the reluctant reader; however, Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid are always great places to start with reluctant, struggling readers. These books are funny, have characters and themes students can relate to, and have illustrations that help with comprehension.


Which books do you recommend to reluctant readers?

RickiSig andSignature

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 11/18/13



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 picture to view the post**


Last Week’s Journeys

Kellee: I had a great week! I finished Allegiant (OMG!!!). No spoilers, but if you want to chat, tweet me. I also finished Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney. I will definitely review Will & Whit for you all as it is a great graphic novel. Hard Luck was very much like the rest of the series and will definitely be loved by millions of kids around the world.

Ricki: Ah, Kellee! I want to read Allegiant, and I am secretly hoping it will be in our ALAN box. I finished a reread of Tyrell by Coe Booth this week. It is one of the books being taught in the class I am observing. I loved it just as much as I did the first time. I also read The Arrival by Shaun Tan. This was a beautiful book. I often struggle with graphic novels, and I always try to love them, but I don’t always have success. This is such a beautiful story. It would pair really well with a unit on immigration. I would have loved to have used it when I taught The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

This Week’s Expeditions

Kellee: I don’t know what I am going to read this week! I am in NCTE/ALAN mode (I cannot believe I fly to Boston Wednesday night!) and need to pack and put final touches on my presentations. I may not be able to read anything—we’ll see!

Ricki: I am with Kellee. I am not sure how much reading I will get done this week as I have a huge paper due on Thursday, and then I have to prepare for NCTE and ALAN. Waaaaa! I can’t wait!

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!

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NCTE/ALAN Throwback: Defending Intellectual Freedom with John Green

At NCTE in 2011, the very first break out session I planned to go to see John Green and Jimmy Santiago Baca speak about defending intellectual freedom (aka censorship and challenges).  When the masses arrived and had filled the room, we found out that unfortunately Jimmy Santiago Baca could not make it.  Although I was really looking forward to hearing him speak, this did leave 70 minutes or so for John Green to speak.  And it was awesome!
John began by talking about his writing and why he writes for teens- “The great thrill of writing teen novels is they’re doing things for the 1st time and don’t know how.”  He says the problem comes in because “authors write the porn and educators have to justify it to their audiences” and the audiences aren’t always so accepting.  But what we all do not realize is that the “chilling effect of challenging books is people would rather not go through the trouble.  But then the challengers win and we’re excluding a class of literature very relevant to teens these days.”  The world needs to see “literature as a blanket that covers the world and has comforted us since the beginning of time… Reading can be a way in to not feeling alone but it is also important to read about those not like us.  The better I can imagine being you, the more empathetic I am… Censorship is an argument against empathy.”  He shared that if a book is challenged within your school, don’t give up.  Contact the author, NCTE, others for help and fight it.  He gave us one key piece of advice, but asked us not to say he said it so I am staying mum; however, if you ever meet me, ask me what he said and I will share.
 This session was also a big pep rally for teachers.  Here’s some highlights:
“Public schools exist for the benefit of social order.  An educated society benefits us all.”
“We need to trust teachers and when we don’t we do us all a great disservice.”
“Part of the s#*tty thing of being a teacher is you are never thanked.”
His biggest piece of luck was having teachers who didn’t give up on him.
“Anticensorship = not giving up on beliefs and what is good for your students.”
“A teacher’s passion, attention is never wasted.”
“If you can empower teachers to do their job, they’ll generally do it well.”
Leaving the session you couldn’t help but feel empowered and
I hope that everyone in the room felt the same way as me.
 But then, to keep my John Green high going, I was able to meet him (briefly) at the ALAN cocktail party and he spoke again at ALAN.

His session at ALAN was shorter and took on the topic of social networking and, of course, reading.  He shared how our students are living in the information society and “the information society is about fear- fear of being bored, alone”. Really, most young adults do read, but they read online and “online reading/writing is skimming. It is like the cliffnotes version of consciousness. And it is all terrifyingly wonderfully distracting.”  But that is why reading is so important. “Reading forces you to be quiet in a world that no longer makes a place for that.”  He hopes that as a writer he can find “a seat at the table of the lives of his reader”.
John Green is one of those authors who I could listen to just ramble on because random acts of brilliance always accompany him. I was honored to see him speak twice and if you ever have the chance, you should try to see him as well.
It is times like this one that makes NCTE and ALAN a must-attend for me. It always leaves me with an education high that reminds me why I am doing what I am doing,

Attending NCTE and ALAN



It is just 5 days until the English Teacher Extraordinaire (also known as NCTE and ALAN) begins!

NCTE (The National Council of Teachers of English) Annual Convention is a time for all of us English, reading, and literacy teachers who are always looking to give our students the best instruction possible.  NCTE is filled with instructional breakout sessions about anything you could wish for. For example, this year I have found a session about being a reading coach (my new job) and another about using iPads in the classroom (my school is a digital pilot school).  There are even breakout sessions that are author strands, so you can get insight into books and writing processes of different authors.  There are also keynote speakers, breakfasts, and lunches that can be attended to see even more amazing authors and educators. Finally, there is an exhibit hall filled with author signings, ARCs, and publishers–all amazing ways to learn about new books and to meet authors who you love (I’ve been so blessed to meet almost all of the authors on my “Author Bucket List”).

Following the 3.5 days of NCTE is the ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) workshop. ALAN is all about authors and books and being an advocate for YA literature. During the workshop you get to hear authors share about their books and even get to meet them during a silent signing.

But what makes all of this the best experience is the people I am surrounded by. All of us where education and reading is a passion, our lives, and our being. I am so lucky that it came to Orlando one year, so I went. Now I cannot even imagine not going.

This year will be a bit different for me as I have a more active role than ever before. I am presenting twice during NCTE (one about using non-fiction picture books with secondary students and another about struggling readers) and then during ALAN I am so lucky to be chairing a panel. I am also attending as the new chair of the Walden Award committee, so there will be a lot of meeting and greeting. It is a bit different than in the past, but I am sure that I will still love every minute of it.

I cannot wait for this year’s!!


Check out my recap of NCTE/ALAN 2011 and NCTE/ALAN 2012
I’ll do a recap this year after the convention.