Kellee’s NCTE Session: Humor and the Art of Engaging All Readers with Kim Baker, Caroline Carlson, Jennifer Holm, Kristen Kittscher, and Heidi Schulz




In a few shorts weeks, I am going to have the pleasure of chairing a panel with five amazing authors about the importance and ability of humor within middle grade books.  Within the session we’ll be touching on many aspects of humor including why the authors chose to write funny books, how humor can be used to help address tough topics, how humor is not just for boys!, different types of humor, and different ways humor can be intertwined in a novel. To see our PowerPoint and handout, check out my Slideshare at

I am looking forward to presenting with these wonderful ladies, and I wanted to take a day to share their wonderful (and funny!) books with you all.


Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School
Author: Kim Baker
Illustrator: Tim Probert
Published September 4th, 2012 by Roaring Brook Press

Goodreads Summary: This is the story of THE LEAGUE OF PICKLE MAKERS.

Ben: who began it all by sneaking in one night and filling homeroom with ball-pit balls.
Frank: who figured out that an official club, say a pickle making club, could receive funding from the PTA.
Oliver: who once convinced half of the class that his real parents had found him and he was going to live in a submarine.
Bean: who wasn’t exactly invited, but her parents own a costume shop, which comes in handy if you want to dress up like a giant squirrel and try to scare people at the zoo.

TOGETHER, they are an unstoppable prank-pulling force, and Fountain Point Middle School will never be the same.

My Review: Kim Baker has obviously spent some time with middle schoolers because her characters, dialogue, and story are spot on. Pickle is a hilarious, though sometimes serious, story about pranks and friendship and more pranks. What I love most about the book, though, is the characters. They are diverse, imperfect, and fully-developed–just like an actual middle schooler. Though some of the pranks and adults are over the top, the middle schoolers are reflections of what really kids are like.

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The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates
Author: Caroline Carlson
Illustrator: Dave Phillips
Magic Marks the Spot Published September 10th, 2013 by HarperCollins
The Terror of the Southlands Published September 9th, 2014 by HarperCollins
The Buccaneers’ Code Published September 8th, 2015 by HarperCollins

Magic Marks the Spot Goodreads Summary: Pirates! Magic! Treasure! A gargoyle? Caroline Carlson’s hilarious tween novel The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot is perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society.

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword.

There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

Written with uproarious wit and an inviting storyteller tone, the first book in Caroline Carlson’s quirky seafaring series is a piratical tale like no other.

My Review: If you have been following the blog, you know that I thoroughly enjoyed these books. I listened to all of them, and the narrator, Katherine Kellgren, is brilliant. Her ability to do the different voices and accents is just superb! Now, it does make it even easier to love because the books are so well done and so much fun! Hilary Westfield has become one of my favorite strong female protagonists because she just does not care what anyone else thinks or expects of her, she is going to be a fearsome pirate no matter who steps in her way. Additionally, the gargoyle is one of my favorite sidekicks in any book.

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Sunny Side Up
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Published August 25th, 2015 by GRAPHIX

Goodreads Summary: Sunny Lewin has been packed off to Florida to live with her grandfather for the summer.  At first she thought Florida might be fun — it is the home of Disney World, after all.  But the place where Gramps lives is no amusement park.  It’s full of . . . old people.  Really old people.

Luckily, Sunny isn’t the only kid around.  She meets Buzz, a boy who is completely obsessed with comic books, and soon they’re having adventures of their own: facing off against golfball-eating alligators, runaway cats, and mysteriously disappearing neighbors.  But the question remains — why is Sunny down in Florida in the first place?  The answer lies in a family secret that won’t be secret to Sunny much longer. . .

My Review: Jennifer L. Holm does such a wonderful job in Sunny Side Up mixing a really tough situation with a very humorous story. It is the perfect balance. It isn’t over the top, because that would demean the serious topic, but it isn’t too serious either. And you can tell this is a story from Jennifer’s heart because the story is crafted so thoughtful with well-timed humor and well-timed conflict.

wig in the window tiara on the terrace

Young and Yang
Author: Kristen Kittscher
Wig in the Window Published June 18th, 2013 by HarperCollins
The Tiara on the Terrace Expected Publication January 5th, 2016 by HarperCollins

Wig in the Window Goodreads Summary: Best friends and seventh graders Sophie Young and Grace Yang have made a game out of spying on their neighbors. On one of their midnight stakeouts, they witness a terrifying, bloody scene at the home of their bizarre middle-school counselor, Dr. Charlotte Agford (aka Dr. Awkward).

At least, they think they do. The truth is that Dr. Agford was only making her famous pickled beets! But when Dr. Agford begins acting even weirder than usual, Sophie and Grace become convinced that she’s hiding something—and they’re determined to find out what it is.

Soon the girls are breaking secret codes, being followed by a strange blue car, and tailing strangers with unibrows and Texas accents. But as their investigation heats up, Sophie and Grace start to crack under the pressure. They might solve their case, but will their friendship survive?

Perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Wig in the Window is a smart, funny middle-grade mystery with a REAR WINDOW twist.

My Review: I am in awe of Kristen Kittscher’s ability to craft such a complicated mystery! There are so many twists and turns throughout that I am sure the plotting of the book was so intensive! I really appreciate Young & Yang mysteries for three reasons. First, Young & Yang (& Bottoms) themselves. They are such unique yet normal characters. Normal in that they seem like regular middle school girls, but unique in literature because they aren’t anything that is stereotypical.  Second, I love that Wig in the Window and Tiara on the Terrace are both a little risque yet safe. Too often mystery books are too easy or boring OR they are so violent or sexual, and my middle schoolers just don’t gravitate towards them. Kittscher’s books are a perfect mix! Finally, as you can probably guess from the topic of the panel, they are quite funny! A mix of all kinds of humor, but throughout there are some ridiculous moments as well as some subtle puns.

hook's revenge hook's 2

Hook’s Revenge
Author: Heidi Schulz
Illustrator: John Hendrix
Hook’s Revenge Published September 16th, 2014 by Disney-Hyperion
The Pirate Code Published September 15th, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion

Hook’s Revenge Goodsreads Summary: Captain Hook’s feisty daughter hits the high seas to avenge her father’s death at the jaws of the Neverland crocodile in Heidi Schulz’s spirited middle-grade debut.

Twelve-year-old Jocelyn dreams of becoming every bit as daring as her infamous father, Captain James Hook. Her grandfather, on the other hand, intends to see her starched and pressed into a fine society lady. When she’s sent to Miss Eliza Crumb-Biddlecomb’s Finishing School for Young Ladies, Jocelyn’s hopes of following in her father’s fearsome footsteps are lost in a heap of dance lessons, white gloves, and way too much pink.

So when Jocelyn receives a letter from her father challenging her to avenge his untimely demise at the jaws of the Neverland crocodile, she doesn’t hesitate-here at last is the adventure she has been waiting for. But Jocelyn finds that being a pirate is a bit more difficult than she’d bargained for. As if attempting to defeat the Neverland’s most fearsome beast isn’t enough to deal with, she’s tasked with captaining a crew of woefully untrained pirates, outwitting cannibals wild for English cuisine, and rescuing her best friend from a certain pack of lost children, not to mention that pesky Peter Pan who keeps barging in uninvited.

The crocodile’s clock is always ticking in Heidi Schulz’s debut novel, a story told by an irascible narrator who is both dazzlingly witty and sharp as a sword. Will Jocelyn find the courage to beat the incessant monster before time runs out?

My Review: Heidi Schulz must have read my mind because I’ve always felt that Hook was the most interesting character in the Peter Pan stories (Peter himself is actually a bit obnoxious), and I wanted to know what ever happened to him. These books tell me not only that, but also the story of his feisty daughter. Jocelyn overcomes so much to finally become a pirate then, once in Neverland, she goes on quite an epic journey to avenge her father’s honor. Jocelyn is a spit fire and is ready to lead her crew on an adventure of her lifetime.

Recommended For: 

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Kellee Signature

Ricki’s NCTE/ALAN Top Ten Books


Ricki’s Top Books from NCTE/ALAN (What?! I am actually picking ten?)

This may be the most painful post I write this year. I wrote Kellee an email last night that said, “I just can’t do it. I can’t pick ten! And imagine I went through my boxes before I wrote the post? I can’t do it, Kellee.” I can’t believe I agreed with Kellee (before the conference) that we should write this post. I am an idiot. Really…how do I pick from the piles and piles of books I received at NCTE/ALAN? My stomach hurts as I write this introduction.

In the end, I have decided to do this post from memory. I am not going to comb through my boxes to look for my favorites. I am going to list the books that stick in my head. That doesn’t mean these are the best, but these are the ones that are the first ten that are imprinted in my skull, a few weeks later:

(In alphabetical order):

1. The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

alex crow

I love Andrew Smith and find his books to be exceptionally entertaining and literary (a tough balance for many authors). I am excited I received this one.

2. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

all the bright places

A friend and publisher representative highly recommended this book, and frankly, I read everything she recommends because she is always right. The way she described it made me realize I would have to resist the urge to lock myself in my hotel room and read it (rather than attending the rest of the conference).

3. Breakout by Kevin Emerson


I was speaking with Kevin (the author), and imagine our shock when we learned that we attended the same high school! I am ashamed I haven’t read his books (Carlos is Gonna Get It), and after learning about this one, I am thrilled to read it!

4. Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan


Read the description of this book. I dare you to resist reading it.

5. How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

how it went down

Kekla Magoon is one of my favorite authors, so I was thrilled to receive this new book by her.

6. Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

killer instinct

You can’t leave a conversation with Jennifer Lynn Barnes without thinking about how incredibly insightful and intelligent she is. I’ve heard this book gives you the creepy-crawly feeling. A friend related it to the television show, Criminal Minds. It is the second in the series, but I hear that each can be read alone—as long as you are okay with learning who the killer of the first book in the beginning pages of the second book.

7. Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath

like water on stone

Someone described this to me as The Book Thief meets Between Shades of Grey. Sign me up.

8. Market Maze by Roxie Munro

market maze

A colorful maze picture book that describes how food gets to our tables. Doesn’t that sound neat?

9. When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

when i was the greatest

After hearing Jason speak, I think everyone in the audience wanted his book. Wow.

10. Wildlife by Fiona Wood


I had the pleasure of meeting Fiona Wood, and she was such a well-spoken, kind soul. She is from Australia, and thank goodness we nabbed her book in the USA. I am very excited to read it.


That was both exciting and painful at the same time. If you ask me tomorrow, I am sure my top ten will be a little bit different, but these books really stick out in my head (right now).



Kellee’s NCTE/ALAN Reflection


Kellee's NCTE:ALAN Reflection

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual conference followed by the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) workshop is a must for my teacher soul. It is the time I get to completely immerse myself in education and books. It truly recharges me each year, and I cannot imagine missing it.

This year was a bit different for me though. I usually attend all 4 days of NCTE and both days of ALAN, but this year I wasn’t able to attend all of NCTE (only Saturday). Unfortunately, this meant fewer sessions for me, but I was lucky enough to bring Trent and Jim with me and spend some family time (with my sister, too!) on Sunday.

I was able to attend both days of ALAN though. These two days are just so special. It is pure immersion into book culture.  Like Ricki said yesterday, please consider joining this amazing assembly. I love being part of an organization that truly believes in getting good books into the hands of kids.

  • Teaching Graphic Novels panel
  • Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award presentation
    • I was the 2014 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award chair, so that meant I had the honor of presenting the award as well as participating in a panel with ALL FIVE of the recipients. All five honorees had not attended ALAN in years, so I was super excited to have them all there. Although I was a bit nervous, I really think it went well! I loved working with and speaking with the five amazing authors, and I specifically tried to have an intense focus on why their books were honored for the award. If you want to learn more about the Walden award visit here. If you haven’t read these books yet, you definitely should!
  • Meeting authors
    • Each year one of the biggest highlights is being able to meet the best authors in children’s/middle grade/young adult literature. This year was no different! I love chatting with them and sharing my (or my students’) love for their books.  Here are photos of some of the authors I saw. I wasn’t able to get photos of everyone including Gareth Hinds, Meg Medina, Marissa Moss, Trudy Ludwig, Steve Sheiken, George O’Connor, Kekla Magoon, Chris Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, G. Neri, Sylvia Whitman, Marie Rutkoski, E. Lockhart, Adele Griffin, and Laurel Snyder (I cannot believe I didn’t get photos with/of all of these great authors! But you get talking, and then it is over. Or the photo is blurry. *sigh*).
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    • (Top to bottom; left to right): Andrew Smith, Heidi Stemple & Jane Yolen, Patrick Flores-Scott, Sarah Mlynowski, Cory Doctorow, Raina Telgemeier, Matt de la Pena, James Dashner (with letter from my students), Ann M. Martin (yes, I cried!), Cynthia Lord, Melissa Sweet, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Neal Shusterman and his son Brandon, Coe Booth, Christopher Paul Curtis, Rainbow Rowell, Bill Konigsberg, Jon Klassen, Jon Sciezska, David Lubar, and Kwame Alexander!
  • ALAN 
    • Keynote by Libba Bray: Libba threw down the gauntlet. Her keynote addressed gender in publishing, in books, and gender stereotypes. It was powerful.
    • Panel about music in books: This panel featured Mary Amato, Frank Portman, and Len Vlahos, and they cracked me up while also focusing on the power of music.
    • Panel about online fandom, gaming, and social networking: I loved that ALAN decided to have this as a panel because it is so current and something that we really need to be thinking and talking about. The panel included Melissa de la Cruz, C.J. Farley, and Sarah Mlynowski.
    • Panel about nonfiction texts about transgendered teens: This panel consisted of 2 transgendered teens (Arin Andrews, author of Some Assembly Required and Katie Hill, author of Rethinking Normal) , their mothers. This panel was touching, impacting, and so special.
    • Exchange table: I love talking books, and the exchange table gives me a chance to help teachers find the best books for their classroom. It also allows for me to organize things which I also love.
      • (I know at this point it seems like I am copying Ricki, but the things she highlighted were a wonderful part of my experience as well.)
  • Reconnecting with Friends
    • This is the one time of the year where I get to see many of my education/book/blog friends face to face. It is like a family reunion! This year was a bit difficult to really hang out since I didn’t arrive until late Friday and I had Trent with me, but I am so glad that I got to see many of my friends. I tried really, really hard to get more photos this year than I have in the past, and I succeeded, but still did not get photos with everyone. I missed getting photos with Lee Ann Spillane, Beth Scanlon, Lee Corey, Beth Shaum, Cindy Minnich, Karin Perry, Teri Lesesne, Lois Buckman, David Gill, Sarah Gross, Alyson Beecher, Cynthia Alaniz, Susan Dee, Paul Hankins, Terri Suico, Gary Anderson, Chris Lehman, Katherine Sokolowski, Tony Keefer, Teresa Bunner, Jen Vincent, and many more! Here are just some of the friends I did get photos with:
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      (Top to bottom, left to right): Jen Vincent, Jennifer Shettel, Kim McCollum-Clark, Donalyn Miller, Cathy Blackler, Jennifer Fountain, Mark Lechter, Sarah Anderson, Brian Wyzlic, Gigi McAllister, Jillian Heise, and Jen Ansbach (Sorry for some of the bad quality! Selfies and bad lighting don’t always equal a good photo.)
  • Books!
    • What more do I have to say?! Books galore! I cannot wait to dive into the new books I learned about!
  • Last, but so not least: RICKI AND HENRY!
    • I got to see Ricki and Henry!!! *happy dance*

I am so sad that NCTE/ALAN 2014 is over, but I’m already looking ahead to next year where I cannot wait to see my book family, meet more authors, and continue learning to be the best teacher I can be!


Ricki’s NCTE/ALAN Reflection 2014


Ricki's NCTE:ALAN Reflection

This year’s NCTE conference and ALAN Workshop were incredible. The sessions invigorated me, and I felt like I was constantly running on adrenaline. I was able to spend time with old friends and make new friends, as well—teachers, teacher educators, librarians, authors, and publishers.

Those of you who know me well know that I am a big ALAN fan. If I can’t afford NCTE and ALAN on any given year, I always go to the ALAN Workshop. If you aren’t an ALAN member, I highly recommend that you join. The assembly is like a family—the members are extremely accepting and their passion shines.

A few of the highlights this year include:

1. An awesome session I attended where the presenters dovetailed issues of disability and social justice. It really made me think!

2. The Meet the Editors session. I was there as a presenter (with The ALAN Review), but there were a few moments where I could pop over to other tables to get information from some of the other journals. I loved the way this session was set up.

3. Getting to dine with some of my favorite bibliophiles. And sharing hugs with others.

4. Working the exchange table at the ALAN Workshop. A few years ago, a president started this tradition. It allows people to exchange books they receive in their boxes. So, for example, a middle school teacher might exchange to receive more books geared to the age group s/he teaches. While this table was stressful at times, seeing the excitement on people’s faces when a book they wanted was available was priceless. A few teachers were able to make several sets of literature circle books by doing some clever trading.

5. Getting to see the presentation of the Walden Award at the ALAN Workshop. Kellee is going to be really humble, but she did a phenomenal job. ALL FIVE WINNING AUTHORS attended!

6. The ALAN Workshop panel about books that feature transgender teens. The speakers were incredible—two were high school students who are transgender and their moms. A fifth woman wrote a collection of stories, as well. All of the speakers (and the teens in particular) were incredibly articulate. The received a well-deserved standing ovation.

7. Meeting Trent! We were able to get our two baby readers together. They had a lot of fun in the Exhibit Hall. See Monday’s post for a picture. 🙂

8. All of the books! I can’t wait to get started on all of the amazing ARCS and new texts that I received this year. I shipped my books home, and I was delighted to see a gigantic box waiting on my doorstep when I arrived. So on that note, I am going to cut this post short. I have books to attend to! 🙂




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)
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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

panel3 panel2

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!!


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.