I Read Banned Books


This week to show my support, I wore my “I Read Banned Books” bracelet: 
Banned Books Week is a time to celebrate our freedom to be able to read whichever books we choose as well as being able to access these books. Many of the challenges/bans that happen in the US are on young adult books which are deemed “unsuitable to age group” and are often challenged by parents. As a teacher, I completely understand the right to protect our own children and that some books are more appropriate for different ages; however, I will never understand the need to try to push these beliefs onto others by completely banning a book in a library, school or city. To learn more about banned and censored books and Banned Books Week check out ALA’s Banned & Challenged Books and Banned Books Week.


I wanted to share with you some of my favorite challenged books (taken from the ALA Frequently Challenged Books list)—some you will recognize and some that may be new to you, but they are all books that should be accessible. If you want to learn more about each book, click on their cover and it’ll take you to their Goodreads pages.


ttyl (series) by Lauren Myracle
Reasons for challenges: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

ttyl (Internet Girls, #1)

Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins
Reasons for challenges: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
Reasons for challenges: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit

What My Mother Doesn't Know (What My Mother Doesn't Know, #1)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons for challenges: offensive language; racism

To Kill a Mockingbird

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons for challenges: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
Reasons for challenges: Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit

Olive's Ocean

Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
Reasons for challenges: homosexuality and offensive language

Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher

Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Reasons for challenges: anti-family content, unsuited to age group, violence

The Adventures of Captain Underpants (Captain Underpants, #1)

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
Reasons for challenges: nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit

In the Night Kitchen

Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
Reasons for challenges: occult/Satanism

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Reasons for challenges: offensive language

Of Mice and Men

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Reasons for challenges: occult/Satanism, offensive language

Bridge to Terabithia

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Reasons for challenges: drugs

Go Ask Alice

Crank (series) by Ellen Hopkins
Reasons for challenges: drugs, offensive language, and sexually explicit

Crank (Crank, #1)

Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry (series) by Mildred D. Taylor
Reasons for challenges: offensive language

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Reasons for challenges: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group


Looking for Alaska by John Green
Reasons for challenges: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group

looking for alaska

These are some of my favorite challenged books—what are yours?
How did you celebrate Banned Books Week?



Stained by Cheryl Rainfield



Author: Cheryl Rainfield
Expected Publication October 1st, 2013 by HMH Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: In this heart-wrenching and suspenseful teen thriller, sixteen-year-old Sarah Meadows longs for “normal.” Born with a port-wine stain covering half her face, all her life she’s been plagued by stares, giggles, bullying, and disgust. But when she’s abducted on the way home from school, Sarah is forced to uncover the courage she never knew she had, become a hero rather than a victim, and learn to look beyond her face to find the beauty and strength she has inside. It’s that—or succumb to a killer.

My Review: Cheryl delves into two very different tough subjects in this book. First, we meet Sarah who is a 16-year-old girl who was born with a port-wine stain. As with anything that makes you different when you are a teenager, it affects your life daily. Sarah has trouble fitting in, is bullied, and only has a few friends. Through this experience, though, she has also had a very narrow focus on physical appearance and pushes people away because she is focused so much on a surgery that would temporarily remove her port-wine stain. However, as she is dealing with not receiving her surgery, Sarah is thrown into the scariest situation a girl could become part of: she is kidnapped, locked away, and abused by her kidnapper.

Though this is a very tough book to read, it was one that I couldn’t put down. It is amazing how Cheryl takes the tragedies she has been through and transports her strength and experiences into her characters.

Teacher’s Tools For Navigation: This story will resonate with many students because it is about a circumstance that far too many teenagers find themselves in or know someone that has experienced being bullied or abused. This makes it a very important book that needs to be accessible because sometimes teenagers need to know about having courage to stand up against evil: “Sometimes you have to be your own hero.”  [I think this is a perfect book to review during Banned Books Week because Cheryl has found her books challenged. However, why should we keep books off the shelf that have ultimately saved readers’ lives? Hear more about my thoughts on banned/challenged books tomorrow.]

Discussion Questions: Sarah has dealt with having a large birthmark on her face since birth and has had to deal with the bullies. Do you think Sarah dealt correctly with the bullies? Could some of the other students around have done something differently?; What traits does Sarah have that helped her during her horrible situation?; Why was the title of the book Stained?

We Flagged: “I feel so dirty, like his smell is clinging to me still, sweat and cologne and sex. Like he’s stained me deeper than my birthmark ever could. Stained my soul, stained everything that makes me who I am.” (p. 99)

Read This If You Loved: Room by Emma Donoghue, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney, Hunted by Cheryl Rainfield, The Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer, Girl, Stolen by April Henry, Stitches by David Small

Recommended For: 



All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill [Ricki’s Review]


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All Our Yesterdays
Author: Cristin Terrill
Published: September 3rd, 2013 by Disney Hyperion

GoodReads Summary: “You have to kill him.” Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

 Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside.

Marina has loved her best friend James since the day he moved next door when they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles apart, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Now someone is trying to kill him. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it. At least not as the girl she once was.

All Our Yesterdays is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.

Review: This is a great science fiction text that will please readers who enjoy reading about time travel and/or dystopian settings. I was immediately pulled into the prison cell with Marina. Terrill does an excellent job with imagery, and I enjoyed the way the plot unfolded. As with most books that discuss time travel, I found a few paradoxes that felt like plot holes, but most books with a time-traveling plot seem to raise this concern for me, as time traveling is sort of a paradox in itself. Overall, I think Terrill did an excellent job trying to alleviate any possible plot issues, and I was impressed with her ability to build such an, intricate, complex plot. While there was a love story, it doesn’t take front and center of this novel, which I appreciated. Often, love stories forced in science fiction books, and Terrill seems to achieve the perfect balance between plot, theme, and romance. The book contains wonderfully richly realized themes that I will discuss in the next section, and I think teachers would be wise to add this book to their classroom libraries. Teens will absolutely love this one.

You can also see Kellee’s point of view by viewing her review here.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The themes of this novel truly make it shine. This book would provide for some fantastic classroom discussions. Teachers could have students examine power and how it influences people, or they could look at loyalty and whether there is a limit to our loyalty to our loved ones. Students would have a lot of fun imagining one thing they would change if they could use a time travel machine (either changing a worldly event or a personal life event). The journal opportunities are endless.

Discussion Questions: How does power influence an individual? Given extreme power, will all people be driven to selfishness?; Who are we most loyal to? Is there a limit to our loyalty?; What events would we change if we could travel back in time? How would our changes impact the world or our lives in a positive way? What are the negative outcomes?; What paradoxes come with time travel? Is there any way to alleviate these?; If we had the power to travel in time, should we? How might time travel be harmful?

We Flagged: “‘Was [the world] always this beautiful and we just never noticed?'” (Chapter 5).

“…But progress is always dangerous, isn’t it? Most of the time, walls don’t get dismantled brick by brick. Someone has to crash through them” (Chapter 19).

Please note: The above quotes are from the Advanced Reader Copy. The e-book (a galley) did not provide page numbers. The quotes may change when the book is published.

Read This If You Loved: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Legend by Marie Lu, Divergent by Veronica Roth

Recommended For:

litcirclesbuttonsmall  classroomlibrarybuttonsmall


**Thank you to NetGalley and Disney Hyperion for providing the Advanced Reader Copy for review!**

The Wolf Girls: An Unsolved Mystery from History by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple


NF PB 2013

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

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


The Wolf Girls: An Unsolved Mystery from History
Authors: Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple
Illustrator: Roger Roth
Published August 1st, 2000 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Goodreads Summary: In 1920 a missionary brought two young girls to an orphanage in India. The girls didn’t know how to talk, walk, or eat from a plate. Some people thought the girls had been abandoned by their parents. Some people said the girls were brought up by wolves in the wild. Still others thought that the missionary who ran the orphanage made up the story about the girls. No one knows for sure.

Become a detective as you read this true story, study the clues, and try to figure out the fate of the wolf girls of Midnapore. The Unsolved Mystery from History series is written by acclaimed author Jane Yolen and former private investigator Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple. Read carefully and check your clues. You might be the first to solve a puzzle that has baffled people for years.

My Review: This story was fascinating as I had never heard of the wolf girls and came in with no prior knowledge about the mystery. It was so much fun to be full on submerged in the mystery and following the clues that are given throughout the “case notebook”.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This book is set up just like the Salem Witch Trials: An Unsolved Mystery from History and could be used the same way in the classroom: This book promotes studying history, inquiry, and vocabulary. The book begins with an introduction to a young girl who enjoys unsolved mysteries from history and then the book is set up like her case notebook. Each page of the case notebook includes a narrative nonfiction section, an informational nonfiction section where facts about the story are explained even more in detail, and then there are vocabulary words from the two sections defined for the reader. Finally, in the back of the book the different theories about what could be the answer to the unsolved mystery are shared and briefly discussed. The set up of this book leads to infinite possibilities of being used in the classroom. Students could debate, write research papers, could do their very own case notebook about a different mystery, etc. Another option is to get all of the Unsolved Mystery from History books and have students get into lit circle groups and have each group read a different mystery then research and share.

What I like particularly about this one is that there is so much to debate as there aren’t many clues given throughout the story. Many of the eye witnesses are unreliable and there aren’t many facts shared throughout the book. I think this book would lead to a great discussion about primary and secondary sources as well as reliability.

Discussion Questions: Which theory do you believe about the wolf girls?; Do you think a journal written a year after an incident is reliable?; Many of the scientific facts and theories shared are from the 18th and 19th century, are these facts still what science believes?; Why do you think the missionary’s wife never spoke of the wolf girls?; Why do you think that Singh’s accounts were different than his daughter’s?; Singh said he did not want to exploit the girls yet he let people come to see her – is this exploitation? Do you think what he did was wrong?

We Flagged: Narrative nonfiction “After nursing the two girls back to health, the Reverend Singh loaded them into the cart and drove them for eight days to his orphanage in Midnapore. But the wolf girls were so weak and emaciated, they could not move about, so at first no one outside of the orphanage saw them. Singh wrote in his journal, ‘They were accepted simply as neglected children.’

Informational Nonfiction Singh wrote in his journal that the girls were mud-covered, with scratches, scars, and fleas. The heels of their hands were callused from running on all fours. Their ears trembled like a dog’s when they were excited. Their brows were bushy and long. Each had arms almost reaching their knees. Their teeth were close-set, uneven, with fine, sharp edges, the canines longer and more pointed than is usual in humans. However, Singh took no scientific measurements and invited no scientists to examine the girls. He took photographs that were fuzzy and indistinct. Years later, his own daughter, when interviewed, did not remember the distinctive teeth or exceptional ears or terrifically bushy brows.

Vocabulary Emaciated: thin and feeble due to disease or poor food; Neglected: not take proper care of” (p. 20-21)

Read This If You Loved: Yolen’s other Unsolved Mystery from History books

Recommended For: 

classroomlibrarybuttonsmall litcirclesbuttonsmall

closereadinganalysisbuttonsmall readaloudbuttonsmall

What mystery from history do you wish Jane Yolen had written about? 


Top Ten Tuesday: Best Sequels Ever


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 Best Sequels

Unlike the stereotype, these sequels will rock your world!


1. Prodigy by Marie Lu

I greatly enjoyed Legend, but I might argue that Prodigy was even better! It is rare that I like the second book more than the first. I wonder if I was just more into the world that Lu created after the second book. This second book is incredibly good.

2. Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles (Warning: This is a companion book, not a sequel.)

Oh, look, I cheated again. I just read this book a month ago, and I absolutely adored it. It is a companion book to Jumping off Swings and is told through Josh’s voice. I don’t care if it isn’t technically a sequel, it is going on my list.

3. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (The third book in the Graceling realm—Does this count?)

I disregarded food and sleep while reading this book. It is one of my all-time favorite reads. If you haven’t gotten lost in this series of companion books, do yourself a favor and read them. They rock.

4. The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

His Dark Materials will always hold a special place in my heart. I read the first book in college in a literature course about Hell and the devil, and I couldn’t stop there. Each book was excellent.

5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I really enjoyed both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and I secretly wish they never became a movie series because the craze seemed to water down how truly great these books are. I was hooked to this second book, so I thought it was deserving of this top ten list.


1. Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson

I loved both Hattie books, but the sequel actually resonated more with me. In both Hattie faces circumstances that most woman wouldn’t face in the early 1900s; however, in the sequel, Hattie really grows up and finds herself. I also loved that in this one she was going after HER dream.

2. Son by Lois Lowry (the 4th book in The Giver quartet, but technically the only true sequel to The Giver)

The Giver has been my favorite book for 20 years now and I have always been fine with the ending, but when companions came out and finally a series finale, I couldn’t not read them. Though some people found that the end of the series was a bit too wrapped up, I loved finding out what happened to all of my favorite characters.

3. The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

This series is just so epic and the two sequels of Knife of Never Letting Go are just as intense as the first.

4. Red Glove and Black Heart by Holly Black

I love this world that Holly Black came up with and Cassel’s adventures are just as addictive in the sequels as the first.

5. The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm

Like Hattie Ever After, this is a sequel that while I really liked the first, I found the sequel to really hit home for me. I think it once again has to do with our protagonist growing up.

What are your favorite sequels?


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 9/23/13



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 read exactly what I had planned this week which is always nice. I finished the Unsolved Mysteries from History by Jane Yolen and look forward to reviewing them over the next 3 weeks. I also finished Stained by Cheryl Rainfield which I’ll review this week (with a fun giveaway!). It was such an intense book; I finished it in just over a day.

Ricki: This week, I finished listening to Enchanted by Alethea Kontis. It is a fun story that reads like a fairy tale. As I read it, I kept flashing to Cinderella. I think this book would be great to read to children before bedtime. I also read All Our Yesterdays by debut author, Cristin Terrill. This is a great time-travel science fiction, and I suspect it will be extremely popular with students. It is the first book in a series. I recommend checking this one out! I’ll be reviewing it on Thursday and will be sure to include some teacher tools for navigation. This would make a great literature circle text or book club book.

This Week’s Expeditions

Kellee: I started The Real Boy this weekend and am loving Anne Ursu’s writing just as much, if not more, in this novel. She just knows how to put words on a page! After Real Boy I have Spartan & the Green Egg by Nabila Khashoggi to read as well as Anubis Speaks: A Guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the Dead by Vicky Alvear Shecter which I KNOW I’ll love because I am fascinated with mythology.

Ricki: It seems to be one of those times in my life where I am reading too many books at once. I am listening to Annexed by Sharon Dogar. This book tells Peter van Pel’s perspective (from The Diary of Anne Frank). I am enjoying it thus far and will keep you posted. I am also reading The Spectacular Now in preparation for the movie release, and I also want to start Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up straying to a fourth book…or a fifth…

Upcoming Week’s Posts

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ALA Freadom Slide 2013 (2) storiesformylittlesister

 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!

 Signatureand RickiSig

Why Middle School?



If any of you teach middle school you often hear, “Oh, I’m sorry!” or something like that when you tell someone what you do. After this, I have often reflect on why I love teaching middle school and I think that this post shows many of the reasons why. These years are molding years and although our students may not visit us often or thank us when they are adults, but we are a major part of their growth and have a larger impact than we even realize.


Although I thought that I didn’t remember much of middle school, I began to realize how much of my current self was molded during that time- specifically 1994. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember most of my teacher’s names* or many of my friends** or boyfriends***, but it obviously left an impact on me. I decided to write this post after a student asked me if everything happened in middle school because all of my stories start with, “When I was in middle school…” At first I told them it was just because I teach middle school, but after thinking I began to realize that it was more than that.

First, let’s see who we are talking about: 

My friend Joanie, Allison, and myself on the first day of 7th grade
Halloween dance!


First Piece of Evidence- My Favorite Word

word power

In Ms. Paulsen’s 7th grade language arts class, we were assigned to learn vocabulary through Norman Lewis’s Instant Word Power and suddenly in Session 6 we were introduced to words I will never forget- SESQUIPEDALIAN and SESQUIPEDALIANISM. I thought that they were awesome and hilarious words! If you don’t know what they mean, sesquipedalian actually means 1 and 1/2 feet long. Starting in the 17th century it was changed to mean “a long word” or “a person who is known for using long words”.  This word keeps on popping into my life and I love it every time (including when I used Tom Chapin’s song Great Big Words to practice context clues with my students). Today, while prepping for this post, I found my Instant Word Power book and actually laughed out loud when I saw the practice sentence in my 7th grade textbook: “Attitudinal readjustment is a sesquipedalian term for the cocktail hour. (You can never say it after three drinks.)” Ha! Maybe that sentence is why I never forgot it.


Second Piece of Evidence- My Favorite Book
The Giver (The Giver, #1)
I. Love. This. Book. It is almost hard for me to write about it because it is hard to vocalize how it impacted me when I read it. I think 11 years of age is such an influential age and that is when I read The Giver for the first time. I remember being shocked by the injustices within the book, specifically the lack of books, color, artwork and choices. As a middle schooler, I was so disgusted by Jonas’s society and so impressed by the choices that Jonas makes within the book. It is because of this impression that it has always stuck with me. I frequently forget characters and books and plots, but this one has never left me and I have reread it many times now (which is a rare thing for me). On top of it all, I liked that Lois Lowry made the reader part of her story. The ending, though controversial, is what made me love it even more. It was my decision what happened to Jonas (though it has now been answered in the companions) and as a pre-teen that meant a lot to me.


Third Piece of Evidence- My Favorite Type of Music
I remember April 9, 1994. It was a big day in the world of music and if you were in my middle school you would think that the messiah himself had passed away which to us was exactly how it felt. Sixth grade was about the time where I switched from listening to my parent’s music and pop music to alternative music such as Silverchair, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and later Green Day and Nine Inch Nails. I think that although April 9, 1994 was definitely a tragedy, music lost a brilliant musician in Kurt Cobain that week, it was also one of the reasons why I immersed myself in that type of music. It was definitely an ingredient of who I’ve become.


Fourth Piece of Evidence- Cello
When I lived in Iowa and in 3rd grade we were allowed to pick an instrument to begin playing in 4th grade. The middle school came to the elementary school and the band and orchestra played. I remember looking over the balcony and seeing the cello and I knew that it was the instrument that I was going to choose. Then we moved and it wasn’t until 6th grade that I was able to get my hands on one and this choice changed the trajectory of my life sending me to a music school of choice which led me to playing cello for over 10 years.


Fifth+ Piece of Evidence- Things I still love and have molded me into who I am: Baseball, Girl Scouts, Working With Kids




You may be asking: “Why did Kellee put this reflection on the blog? It is supposed to be about books and teaching.” Though this post may just seem like a way for me to reminisce about middle school, it is actually for a way for me to share how important these such touchy years are in the maturing of our students. So much of what I found during these years has helped me become who I am. We have to help our students during these times find who they are.




*Except Ms. Spalding who was my 6th grade language arts teacher. I really disliked her class when I had her, but afterwards I found myself visiting her and helping her all of the time. I think she was the first teacher to show me tough love and I ended up appreciating it. I’ll never forget reading A Wrinkle in Time in her class and detesting it. I also researched Nefertiti and did a gallery walk presentation about her. Though I don’t remember the name of all of the teachers, there are aspects of many classes I remember and I think that the amazing middle school I went to helped me love learning.
**I feel the worst about this. I had wonderful friends during middle school. I do remember Allison Gandy, my best friend who I will never forget spending time with. She has since gotten married and contacted me once and now I can’t find her 🙁 I also remember a boy named Trey because he tragically passed away and a couple of other girls, but I know that I had a good amount of friends and I wish I could get in contact with them and see what they are up to.
***I will never forget my first real boyfriend, David Haney, and to be honest I thought he was my only boyfriend from middle school until I found a book from 7th grade that says “I <3 Justin” and “J.J. + K.S.” so who knows how my memories have been changed.