Author Guest Post!: Five Ways to Bring MG into the Classroom by F.T. Bradley, author of the Double Vision series


Double Vision front coverCode Name 711--coverDouble Vision The Alias Men hi-res cover

Today, F.T. Bradley, author of the Double Vision trilogy, joins us with a wonderful post for middle grade teachers. Last year, Ricki reviewed (and loved) the second book in the series, Double Vision: Code Name 711We strongly encourage you to check out the entire series and are excited to announce that the third book, Double Vision: The Alias Men, went on sale this week! Please join us in welcoming F.T. Bradley to the blog today. 

   F.T. Bradley--photo

Five Ways to Bring MG into the Classroom

By F.T. Bradley

Reading is good for kids—we all know this. But trying to find ways to bring books into an already over-tasked classroom can be more than a challenge. Every year, I visit several school and library conventions, where I talk about ways to reach reluctant readers. Let’s face it: every classroom has a good portion of kids who would anything to avoid opening another book. So how do you bring middle-grade books into the classroom without boring your students? Here are a few ways to keep reading fresh in the classroom:

1. Find a Theme

Is your class or grade covering a certain period in history? Chances are, there are a host of MG titles that cover it. Math, science, art—authors love to use curriculum as a jumping off point in their fiction. When looking for titles, start by casting a wide net, including non-fiction (reluctant readers are easier to hook with those books), and graphic novels, too. For middle-school teachers, this can be an opportunity to collaborate with other teachers across subjects. A library visit, or a simple Google search can be a good start to find titles, but also look at book review sites like Goodreads, where reviewers often have top-ten lists of like-themed books. Author websites (like mine) sometimes have links and resources too, so don’t forget to browse the web.

2. Host a Book Club

You don’t have to be Oprah to host a book club. It can be small scale, like a class-wide joint read, or an after school club or even an elective for middle-schoolers. One school librarian told me she hosted a book club during lunch once a week—what a great idea! If you’re looking for a more challenging approach to group reading, try reading a non-fiction and fiction title on the same topic or historical period at the same time. How is the fiction title holding up against reality? Another fun challenge: reading a classic title like A Wrinkle in Time, and comparing it to its graphic novel counterpart. Or comparing the book with the movie—a great way to show that books connect to popular entertainment. To start your book club, look for more accessible options (so all kids will be interested, even those who read less), and increase the challenge as you go. 

3. Host a Review Blog or Website

Kids are already expected to write book reports—why not have them write reviews, too? This can be a school or classroom blog, where you post reviews written by kids. You can even post them to other review sites, or on your local bookstore website (if they’re interested—could be a great start to collaboration). Publishers (and sometimes authors) may even be willing to donate a copy of a book in exchange for a review, especially if you post reviews regularly. Just be sure to protect kids’ privacy as you post the reviews.

4. Rewrite the Story

Have you ever read a book with the class, only to be disappointed with the ending? Or maybe it wasn’t the ending you expected—or maybe it was too cliché? Rewrite the end with the class! This can be a great writing assignment—not only does this teach writing and editing skills, it shows kids that stories aren’t set in stone. (Note: this was not my idea, but shared by a Mississippi teacher and her class, who loved this exercise). Other ideas: writing short stories, like fan fiction, featuring the other characters in a book. How does the story change if written from a different perspective? Or: write letters as two characters in conflict with each other. If you’re working with a non-fiction title, consider having kids write fictional stories featuring some of the facts in the book. Or vice-versa: research any facts in the fiction title you’re reading—did the author stay close to the truth?

5. Host a (Virtual) Author Visit

Nothing makes a book, and the profession of writing, come to life more than a visit from a real author. Kids will never forget that day. To find available authors in your area, look at professional organizations’ websites, like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. You can also ask your local library, or your independent bookstore—staff often know who lives locally, and who does great presentations. Don’t have access to local authors or funds to bring authors to your school? Try a Skype visit instead! These virtual visits are often free, and require nothing more than a computer/tablet with a webcam and a (free) Skype account. To find authors who Skype for free (like me), visit author Kate Messner’s website for a list. For non-fiction tie-ins, Skype in the Classroom offers lessons that run the gamut when it comes to curriculum, and even connects classrooms across the globe.   When I host the session on reaching reluctant readers (using these ideas and more) at library and teacher conventions, I get my best tips, book recommendations, and out-of-the-box ideas from teachers and librarians themselves.

How about you? Do you have any ideas or tips to share?

Follow along with the Double Vision: The Alias Men blog tour:

Oct. 6-10: The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow features Double Vision: The Alias Men with a review, author interview, plus a GIVEAWAY..!

Oct. 13: Linc hangs out at the great Erik’s blog, This Kid Reviews Books. Linc talks about spy techniques he picked up on his Pandora missions. And there’s another GIVEAWAY

Oct. 14: Double Vision: The Alias Men is released! Have a virtual party at the YA Sleuth blog…! And follow F.T. on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor for more kid spy fun.

Oct. 16: F.T. Bradley gives you Five Ways to Bring MG into The Classroom at the Unleashing Readers blog, plus a GIVEAWAY.

Oct. 17: Linc is interviewed by Lizzy, Fairday and Marcus over at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow blog. A fun post!

Oct. 20: Buried in Books lets F.T. Bradley talk about the Double Vision trilogy…

Oct. 20: Also this day, the fabulous Ms. Yingling reviews Double Vision: The Alias Men on her blog for Marvelous MG Monday…

Oct. 21: Another favorite blog, YA Book Nerd, hosts F.T. Bradley and the Double Vision trilogy, plus a GIVEAWAY

Oct. 21: F.T. Bradley hangs out at Sleuths, Spies and Alibis

Oct. 24: F.T. Bradley gives tips for parents of reluctant readers, Seven Ways to Get Your Kid to Read, at Pragmatic Mom’s blog, plus a GIVEAWAY!

Oct. 25: At the Nerdy Book Club, find F.T. Bradley’s top 10 books for reluctant readers…


Teaching Young Adult Literature Today: Insights, Considerations, and Perspectives for the Classroom Teacher, Edited by Judith A. Hayn and Jeffrey S. Kaplan


Teaching Young Adult Literature Today

Teaching Young Adult Literature Today: Insights, Considerations, and Perspectives for the Classroom Teacher
Edited by Judith A. Hayn and Jeffrey S. Kaplan
Published: March 15th 2012 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 

GoodReads Summary: Teaching Young Adult Literature Today introduces the reader to what is current and relevant in the plethora of good books available for adolescents. More importantly, literary experts illustrate how teachers everywhere can help their students become lifelong readers by simply introducing them to great reads smart, insightful, and engaging books that are specifically written for adolescents. Hayn, Kaplan, and their contributors address a wide range of topics: how to avoid common obstacles to using YAL; selecting quality YAL for classrooms while balancing these with curriculum requirements; engaging disenfranchised readers; pairing YAL with technology as an innovative way to teach curriculum standards across all content areas. Contributors also discuss more theoretical subjects, such as the absence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young adult literature in secondary classrooms; and contemporary YAL that responds to the changing expectations of digital generation readers who want to blur the boundaries between page and screen.

Review: This informative text is divided into the sections, “Where Has YAL Been?,” “Where is YAL Now?” and “Where is YAL Going?” I very much appreciated the expertise of the scholars who wrote each chapter. 

While each chapter was organized a bit differently, the research is solid. In one chapter, Laura A. Renzi, Mark Letcher, and Kristen Miraglia discuss LGBTQ Young Adult Literature in the Language Arts Classroom. I appreciated their recommendations for infusing LGBTQ texts into the school setting with recommendations tailored to the range of community environments: hostile, ignorant/open, open/accepting, and open. The texts were well-matched with the aims of bringing LGBTQ texts into focus. 

Another chapter I loved was “Crossing Boundaries: Genre-Blurring in Books for Young Adults” by Barbara A. Ward, Terrell A. Young, and Deanna Day. They give solid examples of authors who blur genres, making readers question genre classifications as a whole. These authors show the awesomely innovative authorship within the field of YAL.

Steven T. Bickmore writes a well-informed chapter about best-selling adult novelists who write YA fiction. He divides his piece into two sections–writers of adult best-sellers or pulp fiction and writers with literary accolades in adult fiction. I very much enjoyed his insight about this phenomenon. 

While I only highlight three chapters in this review, I must say that each chapter was special in its own way. The book begins with the history and background of YAL, and it ends with chapters about where the field is heading. As a researcher of this field, some of the information was not new to me, yet I learned much from the scholars of the text, whose extensive research is reflected in each chapter.

We Flagged: “[T]eachers need to gain insider perspectives by reading the books presented to their students. As a result, a wider range of quality adolescent literature will reach the hands of adolescents, and teachers will become increasingly confident about the merits of teaching with YAL”(Elliott-Johns, Chapter 3, Teachers as Readers of YAL section).

Read This If You Loved: Articles from The ALAN Review, Young Adult Literature in the 21st Century by Pam B. Cole, Literature for Today’s Young Adults by Alleen Nilsen & Ken Donelson


Teaching Critical Theory to ALL Students


Critical Encounters in High School English

Commentary on Deborah Appleman’s Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents

This professional development text made me reconsider my teaching philosophy. I’ve used lenses before. In my college credit course (for high school students), I asked students to use nonfiction and fiction as lenses to view other texts. It felt academic, and I believe my students benefited from this skill, but Appleman takes theory a step beyond what I was doing. As a graduate of English Education, critical theory was familiar to me, but I always felt as if I had to teach theory in a hidden way. We talked about gender, but I never told students they were using critical theory.

For most teachers, critical theory is important for advanced placement, high school English classrooms. Appleman provides scaffolding and proves that theory can be used in grades 6-12 and for all levels. Her materials are accessible and engaging.

According to Appleman, teachers should use literary theory as critical lenses to help students understand the ideologies inherent in texts (p. 3) and use skills of reading and writing to come learn about the world (p. 2).  When students read, there are multiple contexts at play, and she provides theoretical grounding and examples of various lenses for teachers: reader response, privilege and social class, gender, post colonialism, and deconstruction. Each lens has its own chapter in her book.

Students bring their own contexts to their reading of a text, so using critical theory allows them to view the literature through a different lens. Reading, interpretation and criticism are all important skills, and too often, teachers “relegate only the reading to students” (p. 6), and through Appleman’s suggestions, we give students authority and power.

No matter how uncomfortable it feels, students should learn to question the notion of a single truth and show the multiplicities that exist in reading. “Meanings are constructed; we create meanings that are influenced by who we are and what we are culturally; historically; psychologically; and, in the case of the Baker version of Miss Muffet, vocationally” (p. 20). Reading allows students to gain perspective of other lenses and theories, but also of their own lives, where the text acts as an equal partner with the reader (p. 31).

There are a plethora of activities and lessons for teachers in the appendix of the book. This book is extremely practical, and I felt as if I could immediately employ the ideas in the classroom, given the resources Appleman provides. I highly recommend this text to teachers.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Professional Books


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 Professional Books

 These are the professional books that have molded us as teachers. We tried to limit our list to just ten books each, but we couldn’t stop. So here are the top TWENTY professional books. We did our best not to repeat any texts.


1. Making the Match: The Right Book for the Right Reader at the Right Time, Grades 4-12 by Teri Lesesne

If you want to help match students with books, this text is a must-have. It focus on three areas—knowing the readers, knowing the books, and knowing the strategies. Making the Match represents everything I believe about teaching. Even though I felt that I was experienced at matching books with readers, it gave me so many new ideas to try!

2. Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

As I read this book, I kept saying, “YES!” out loud. A fairly quick read, Readicide uses research to prove why we are systematically killing the love of reading in schools. The evidence is overwhelming.

3. In the Middle: New Understandings about Writing, Reading, and Learning by Nancie Atwell

I read this book in college and constantly used the ideas in my classroom. I can’t say enough positive things about the value of reading and writing workshops (both of which are promoted in this text). Atwell made me want to open my own school! This book is chockfull of mini-lessons and ideas for teachers. It is a very practical, useful guide.

4. The English Teacher’s Companion: A Complete Guide to Classroom, Curriculum, and the Profession by Jim Burke

When I read this in college, I had to go out and buy a new highlighter. It was like a bible to me because it had so many ideas. Whenever I felt down or discouraged while teaching, I would flip through this book and feel like I just came back from NCTE. There are so many great strategies and teaching ideas that you will feel reinvigorated every time you open it.

5. Black Ants and Buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades by Mary Cowhey

This book is written for elementary school teachers, but as a high school teacher, I learned  a lot. Cowhey   gives real classroom examples of how she promotes social justice, action, and independence in the classroom. I use this text to teach my students who are pre-service elementary school teachers, and they love it.

6. When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do About It by Kylene Beers

This is my go-to book for struggling readers. It is a phenomenal resource and is incredibly helpful for those moments when a student reads a passage, turns to you and says, “I don’t get it.”

7. Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice by Geneva Gay

Geneva Gay’s writing is very well-researched and thoughtful. She gives very useful tools for responding to all of the cultures in our classrooms. I highly recommend this text to teachers. I couldn’t stop highlighting!

8. Commando Classics: A Field Manual for Helping Teens Understand (And Maybe Even Enjoy) Classic Literature

Daria Plumb’s approach to classic literature is accessible and exciting. I love the text sets she provides. They are invaluable for teachers.

9. Reading Ladders by Teri Lesesne

I can’t help but repeat this one from Kellee’s list. It is a fantastic resource for teachers who want to challenge their students while still granting them freedom as they read.

10. Experience and Education by John Dewey

This is where it all began, isn’t it? Written in 1938, this book is lightyears before its time. Dewey is a foundational thinker who changed education today. It is not a surprise that he is continually cited for his good work.


1. The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

I thank this book, and its author, for helping me reform my teaching and focus on what is important.

2. Reading Ladders by Teri Lesesne

Reading ladders have been something I think about constantly when working with my struggling readers (I am a reading coach and taught intensive reading). I find out where the students are and using the idea of Lesesne’s ladders, I work on moving them up.

3. Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage by Paulo Freire

Although Freire’s theories seem like fantasy, they are the utopia that I wish we had here in America’s school system.

4. Teaching With the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen

This text is important for all teachers to read, so they learn specifically how to reach their students.

5. A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne

This one is specifically important for teachers who grew up out of poverty. It gives a better sense of addressing students living in poverty.

6. Book Love by Penny Kittle

The Book Whisperer for high school. I love that it shows that the same ideas Donalyn laid out can be applied to secondary education.

7. Thrive by Meenoo Rami

I read this right when I was returning from maternity leave, and it was just what I needed.

8. How to Differentiate in a Mixed-Ability Classroom by Carol Ann Tomlinson

If you teach in a mixed-ability classroom, differentiation is key to make sure each student gets the best education. Tomlinson’s ideas can be used within any curriculum.

9. Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12 by Janet Allen

I read this in my young adult literature class. It is very practical for class and assessments.

10. The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell

The beginning of it all. I am always striving to do as Nancie would do.


What are your favorite professional development texts? Which did we miss?

RickiSigand Signature

Blog Tour, Review, and Author Guest Post!: Thrive by Meenoo Rami



Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching
Author: Meenoo Rami
Published March 5th, 2014 by Heinemann Educational Books

Goodreads Summary: As a novice teacher, Meenoo Rami experienced the same anxieties shared by many: the sense of isolation, lack of self-confidence, and fear that her work was having no positive impact on her students. In Thrive, Meenoo shares the five strategies that helped her become a confident, connected teacher. From how to find mentors and build networks, both online and off, to advocating for yourself and empowering your students, Thrive shows new and veteran teachers alike how to overcome the challenges and meet the demands of our profession.

Praise for Thrive:
-“Whether you are entering your first year of teaching or your 40th, Thrive feels as if it were written just for you. At a time in our profession when many of us are feeling stretched thin, Meenoo Rami offers strategies to reignite our passions and rediscover why we chose to teach.” -Christopher Lehman, coauthor of Falling in Love with Close Reading
-“Teaching is a profession that eats its young. Meenoo Rami offers guidelines for surviving the challenges of the classroom as well as the faculty room.” -Carol Jago, author, teacher, and past president of NCTE
-“Thrive includes a mosaic of dynamic teacher voices from many grade levels and content areas. Reading their stories deepened my thinking about the immense untapped potential of our profession. Meenoo Rami’s vision of teaching and learning can sustain us all.”-Penny Kittle, author of Book Love

Join the conversation on Twitter at #edthrive.

About the Author: Meenoo Rami is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches her students English at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. Mixing moments of joy, laughter, risk and encouragement, Meenoo pushes her students to think critically about their connection to the word and the world. Meenoo did her undergraduate work at Bradley University in Illinois in areas of Philosophy and English and completed her Master’s degree in Secondary Education at Temple University.  Meenoo also contributes to the work of school-wide events and professional learning communities at SLA. Meenoo works as a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project. She has shared her classroom practice at various conferences  such as: NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, EduCon, Urban Sites Conference for National Writing Project, and #140edu. Meenoo also runs a weekly twitter chat for English teachers called #engchat which brings together teachers from around the country to discuss ideas related to teaching of English. Her first book, THRIVE  from Heinemann will be out in March 2014. In her free time, Meenoo can be found on her bike, on her yoga mat or in her kitchen tinkering with a vegetarian recipe.

To connect with Meenoo, you can find her on these social media networks:
Google Plus

Kellee’s Review: In this modern day of education where CCSS and testing seems to have become the most important priority and we’re being attacked in the media for having an easy job and are failing our students, it is very difficult to stay positive—much less thrive. Meenoo Rami says that there is definitely a way to overcome all of these hardships, and she lies it all out in 5 “steps.” Although some of what you might find in this book may seem like common sense, it may not be to other teachers, specifically new teachers. It is also important to get reminders about how to stay true to ourselves. I think this is a book that each teacher needs to read and own so they can read it whenever they need a reminder that there is a way to thrive in this profession that we love.

Ricki’s Review: Meenoo Rami hits the nail on the head with her suggestions to teachers. With as many as 56% of teachers leaving the profession (Rami 3), we need to make a change. Beginning teachers must be prepared for the difficulties they will encounter on the job. This book is cleverly crafted with a variety of text features that are sure to engage readers (QR codes, tweets, figures, etc.). I teach pre-service teachers and am very particular about the texts I use. Too many professional texts are watered down and chockfull of obvious information, and I don’t want my students to purchase a book that will be a waste of their time. Rami achieves the perfect balance of narratives and information, and I will be ordering this book for my students next year. I love how she emphasizes that we, as educators, must constantly hone our art of teaching. I strongly believe that we need to practice what we preach, and we, too, must be lifelong learners.


Guest Post: Meenoo’s Tips for Dealing With Negativity and Other Issues That Keep Many of Us From Staying Positive and Thriving in our Profession

There is a common refrain I often hear when I talk to teachers these days. In hushed tones, they admit that they are tired, weary, and depleted by what they face in the their schools everyday. There are some repeated themes amongst the things they tell me:
I am being asked to deliver a prescribed curriculum, not create my own:
If you find yourself in the position where you’re required to use a prepackaged curriculum, consider how to balance it by incorporating the authentic inquiry that your students bring to your classroom, for example:
In an Environmental Science class, invite your local government representative to answer questions prepared by your students regarding how local policy is impacting local ecology.
The focus on testing has taken the joy out of my classroom:
Try to find the balance between teaching with the inquiry stance and test-prep is you are up against the constant pressures of testing in your school. Can you bring inquiry to this task by having your students actually create the test that they will be asked to take? See my colleague Larissa’s thinking around this here .
I have to sit through mind-numbing, inauthentic professional development every week:
What would it look like if you or your colleagues offered to prepare professional development in your school. Our administrators are often at a loss when it comes to finding creative ways to meet teachers’ professional development needs. What if there was a balance between what needs to be on the agenda and what teachers would like to see on the agenda. Perhaps, your faculty can form personal learning communities and take turns providing professional development to the rest of the faculty. Yes, this will be more work but it can meet the actual needs teachers have in terms of professional development. 
I am surrounded by negative colleagues:
Try to listen if you can, persistent complaining might be a cry for help and support. If you cannot do that, offer your support to share resources, ideas, and problem-solve. 


 Thank you to Jen Vincent for hosting this blog tour, thank you to Meenoo Rami for her amazing guest post, and thank you to Heinemann for proving us copies for review. 

Signature andRickiSig

Make sure to check out the other stops in the Thrive blog tour: 

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts

Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading

Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy

Kira Baker Doyle at Kira J Baker-Doyle, Ph.D.

Sarah Mulhern Gross at The Reading Zone

Christina Cantrill at Digital Is (National Writing Project)

Kate Roberts and Maggie B. Roberts at Indent

Beth Shaum Use Your Outside Voice

Linda Baie at Teacher Dance

Troy Hicks at Hickstro

Joy Kirr at Genius Hour

Tara Smith at The Teaching Life

Antero Garcia at The American Crawl

John Spencer at Education Rethink

Amulet Books Graphic Novel Teaching Guide



In January, I was contacted by a publicity and marketing associate from Abrams Books/Amulet Books out of the blue. In this email, I was asked to work on a teaching guide about their graphic novels: The Misadventures of Salem Hyde, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, Hereville, and the Explorer series.




I was beyond honored! And, of course, I said that I would definitely love to do it as I had read all of the graphic novels, and I am a huge fan of them.

First, they asked me to write an introduction about graphic novels and their importance in the classroom. I am a huge advocate for using graphic novels in schools, so I immediately began researching and writing. Here is the introduction:

What are graphic novels? The easiest way to describe graphic novels is to say that they are book-length comic books. However, a more complex definition that educators and librarians use is “book-length narratives told using a combination of words and sequential art, often presented in comic book style” (Fletcher-Spear, 37). Graphic novels are not written in just one genre; they can be in any genre, since graphic novels are a format/medium. Graphic novels are much like novels, but they’re told through words and visuals. They have all narrative elements, including characters, a complete plot, a conflict, etc.

Middle grade and young adult graphic novels cover a wide spectrum of themes and topics. Some common themes found in graphic novels for this age include the hero’s journey; overcoming hardship; and finding one’s identity. For example, in Hereville, we meet Mirka, an everyday girl who learns to use her brains and brawn to overcome her foes. In The Misadventures of Salem Hyde, Salem is working on finding out just who she is (both as a witch and as a person) with the help of her friend Whammy. Graphic novels can cross curricular lines. One example is the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series—comical nonfiction that takes historical events and presents them in interesting ways, using graphics and humor that will make students want to learn even more about the historical time periods. In the Explorer series, stories include topics such as animal adaptation, volcanic eruptions, and the fate of humanity. Like novels, graphic novels offer opportunities in all subject areas to extend students’ thinking.

Over the past few years, graphic novels have become a hot topic, growing in popularity with both children and educators. While many teachers are beginning to include them in the classroom, there are still teachers, administrators, and librarians who struggle with including this format in their schools. So, why should you use them in your classroom and have them available for students?

  • Graphic novels can make a difficult subject interesting and relatable. (Cohen)
  • Students are visual learners, and today’s students have a much wider visual vocabulary than students in the past. (Karp)
  • Graphic novels can help foster complex reading skills by building a bridge from what students know to what they still have to learn. (NCTE)
  • Graphic novels can help with scaffolding when trying to teach higher-order thinking skills or other complex ideas.
  • For students who struggle to visualize while they read, graphic novels provide visuals that shows what good readers do. (NCTE)
  • Many graphic novels rely on symbol, allusion, satire, parody, irony, and characters/plot and can be used to teach these, and other, literary devices. (Miller; NCTE)
  • Often, in between panels (called the gutter), the reader must make inferences to understand how the events in one panel lead to the events in the next. (McCloud)
  • Graphic novels can make differentiating easier. (Miller)
  • Graphic novels can help ELL (English Language Learners) and reluctant and struggling readers since they divide the text into manageable chunks, use images (which help students understand unknown vocabulary), and are far less daunting than prose. (Haines)
  • Graphic novels do not reduce the vocabulary demand; instead, they provide picture support, quick and appealing story lines, and less text, which allow the reader to understand the vocabulary more easily. (Haines)
  • Research shows that comic books are linguistically appropriate reading material, bearing no negative impact on school achievement or language acquisition. (Krashen)
  • Students love them.

Although you can find graphic novel readers at all reading levels, graphic novels can truly be a gateway to the joys of reading for reluctant and struggling readers. Reluctant readers often find reading to be less fun than video games, movies, and other media, but many will gravitate toward graphic novels because of the visuals and the fast pace. Struggling readers will pick up graphic novels for these reasons as well but also because the graphic novel includes accommodations directly in the book: images, less text, etc.

All in all, graphic novels can interest your most reluctant and struggling readers and also extend all of your readers, including your most gifted.  


  • Cohen, Lisa S. “But This Book Has Pictures! The Case for Graphic Novels in an AP Classroom.” AP Central. CollegeBoard.
  • Fletcher-Spear, Kristin, Merideth Jenson-Benjamin, and Teresa Copeland. “The Truth About Graphic Novels: A Format, Not a Genre.” The ALAN Review Winter (2005): 37­–44.
  • Haines, Jennifer. “Why Use Comics in The Classroom?” Comic Book Daily. N.p., 20 Mar. 2012.
  • Karp, Jesse. “The Case for Graphic Novels in Education.” American Libraries. N.p., 1 Aug. 2011.
  • Krashen, Stephen. The Power of Reading. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc. 1993.
  • McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. Northampton, Mass.: Kitchen Sink, 1993. 
  • Miller, Andrew. “Using Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom.” Edutopia. N.p., 11 Jan. 2012.
  • NCTE, comp. “Using Comics and Graphic Novels in the Classroom.” The Council Chronicle September (2005)

 I then began reading and rereading the graphic novels and planning activities and discussion questions that could go along with each book. I was asked to come up with activities for all subjects, so this pushed me out of my comfort zone a bit; however, I loved trying to figure out how these amazing books could be used throughout all classes.  Some examples:

  • Salem Hyde [Science]: At the end of Spelling Trouble, Salem and Whammy have to rescue a whale, but it is done in a very unconventional way. How would real scientists rescue a whale in distress?
  • Hazardous Tales [Language Arts/History]: The Provost (a British soldier) and Nathan Hale disagree about the cause of the Revolutionary War. Based on One Dead Spy, what events caused the Americans to revolt? Do you agree with the Provost or with Nathan Hale about the causes of the war? (This could also be used as a debate question in class.)
  • Hereville [Math]: On pages 31–32 [of Hereville 1], Mirka is given a math problem: Three people are splitting a cake, so they cut it into thirds. But then a fourth person shows up. How can they cut the cake so that each person gets an equalamount of cake? (Mirka comes up with a solution, but are there others?) What if two more people had shown up? Three more? Four more? 
  • Explorer [History]: On page 84 [of The Mystery Boxes], in The Soldier’s Daughter, the man says, “War is a dark power.” Where in history have we seen war consume someone? Have there been wars that did not need to be fought? Research past wars and determine if a war was started because of the need for power or if there was a legitimate reason for it. 

These are just some examples.

I am happy to share the entire teaching guide with you. It can be found at along with other teaching guides. The direct link to the PDF is

I hope you find it useful as I am very proud of it,


Balance, Where Are You?



I wonder if every new mom comes to a point where she asks herself, how do I balance all of this? I only have one child (bless anyone who has more than one), but I often feel as if my eyes are just barely peeking above the surface of the murky swamp. As a new parent, I can’t help but try to balance all of the advice I get—don’t wake a sleeping baby, don’t let him sleep too long, don’t let him get overtired, keep him awake during the day, don’t overstimulate him, schedule naps, nap on demand, and don’t you dare rock him to sleep. I search for balance in my life (as I bounce my four-month-old up and down with my knees—his favorite motion), and I begin to ponder how the elusive qualities of balance might extend beyond parenting.

In my independent study, I am reading some of the greatest contributors to the field of education—Dewey, Bobbit, Apple, and Freire (to name a few). And I get riled up. (If you know me, this shouldn’t be surprising.)  Too many philosophers promote one style/theory of teaching, and we, as educators, are forced to juggle all of these philosophies and formulate our own. We read Kozol or Hirsch or Addams, and we try to mish-mosh their theories into one. Too often, philosophers push their theories as absolute, and while I often respect each theory, I crinkle my forehead when each is professed as the only theory. God forbid, when there are disparities between two of those theories, we feel like bad teachers because we see the merit in both. We want to feel firm in our beliefs. I read about Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy, for example, and I nodded in response when I read that our students must be prepared to emerge as literate adults who understand the language of American culture. And then I read his list of 5,000 words/phrases that EVERY literate person must know, and I shook my head. Perhaps, Hirsch is just one lens, and we, as teachers, are able to see our students through thousands of lenses. It seems that each philosophy we learn about adds a lens and makes our classrooms that much clearer.

I look to these philosophers, and I seek balance in my own philosophies, and I wonder why we find comfort in seeing qualities of life in black and white. I am, admittedly, guilty of this. When a friend posts a viewpoint that is so very different from my own, why am I compelled to post an argumentative reply? Can our polarized views—be them teaching, parenting, or politics—be balanced? What is it about this gray area that makes us so nervous?

And amidst this overwhelming stress of being a good mom, a good wife, a good keeper of the house, a good student, a good friend, and a good blogger, my son looks at me as I bounce him and lets out a belly laugh. Across the cyberspace, someone else’s son is laughing right now. That someone else might hold parenting views that are quite different from my own. And in another town, a teacher is grading assignments that are very different from my own. And what she is doing is working. So maybe this mom and I—and this teacher and I—maybe we are all right.