Archive | August, 2013

Winger: A Review

31 Aug

Title: Winger

Author: Andrew Smith

Release Date: May 14, 2013

Format: Hardcover ordered from B&N.com

Summary (from Goodreads): Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

Filled with hand-drawn info-graphics and illustrations and told in a pitch-perfect voice, this realistic depiction of a teen’s experience strikes an exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking.

I heard a lot of hype about Winger since its release in May.  It was on my radar, but once one good friend Sarah over at YA Love  recommended it, I knew I had to get my hands on it.  I am so glad that I did.  I see this being a huge hit in my classroom.

Ryan Dean is one of my favorite characters I have read so far this year.  He is funny and honest.  I love his inner dialogue and when he shares what he wishes he had said or thinks he hears.  Ryan Dean had my laughing and shaking my head.  This character is a true 14-year-old boy.  While he is a student in a boarding school. I think Ryan Dean is a character many readers will be able to relate to and see themselves in.  In fact, I loved most of the characters.  Even Ms. Singer made me laugh – or at least Ryan Dean’s perception of her.

I loved the art work as well throughout the novel.  This also made me laugh – maybe at times a little too much.  Not only were the illustrations very well done, but they also gave more insight to Ryan Dean as a character.  I think readers will also appreciate these.

The themes were strong.  The theme of bullying definitely stood out to me as a teacher.  While Winger makes me laugh a lot, Smith does a great job dealing with this important issue.  And yes, I would call this book heartbreaking.  I definitely don’t want to spoil anything for future readers.  I did predict what was going to happen, yet it still hurt.  I shed a few tears.  I thought about it for a few days after.  I still think of it and shake my head.  I hope this book can start some important conversations for students.

Another book I hope you get your hands on too.  It is already in my “Mrs. Crawford Recommends” bin and I am guessing that it will quickly move to “Students’ Top Picks” if I ever get it back without a waiting list.

5/5 Stars

Top Ten Most Memorable Secondary Characters

27 Aug

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s list asks for Top Ten Most Memorable Secondary Characters.

In no particular order…

1. Kenji from Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Oh Kenji.  Even though I have a very strong stance on the Adam vs. Warner debate, at the end of the day Kenji is my favoite.  He is funny and will do anything for you.  What more do you need?

2. Rue from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

She may have been one of the youngest competitors in the games, but Rue was a worthy opponent.  She was quick and smart.  Her alliance with Katniss was just as helpful for Katniss, if not more, as to Rue.  And who did not cry when Rue died?  I still tear up – book or movie.

3. The Doorman from I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Ed’s coffee-drinking dog was my favorite character in this book.  I also loved the deep conversations Ed would have with man’s best friend.  Maybe it makes me feel better about the talks I have with my dog, Taylor.

4. Toraf in Of Poseidon by Anna Banks 

Toraf is an all-around nice guy.  He is very loyal, yet honest, to his best friend Galen.  His love of Rayna and the lengths he goes for her is admirable.  And he is a great friend for Emma as she deals with the discovery of her gifts.  Really, just a great guy.

5. Toni from One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

 The “bully” who turns into Carley’s best friend stole my heart.  First of all, she is obsessed with Broadway, especially Wicked.  I can relate to that.  And there is more to her than Carley first believes.  She is a girl I would have loved to hang out with in school.

6. Thorne from Scarlet by Marissa Meyer 

No one can love Thorne quite as much as Thorne loves Thorne.  But really, where would Cinder be without him?  He made me laugh and shake my head, but he was willing to help Cinder even when her true identity became known.  I am a sucker for goofy sidekicks.

7. Zuzana from Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Lani Taylor

Karou’s best friend is fiery and fun.  She is also another loyal friend, willing to do anything for her friend, even after she finds out about the secret life Karou hid from her.  She travels great lengths and faces great danger for her friend.  Zuzana also provides some comic relief.

8. Fred & George Wesley from Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

 These two were my second favorite characters in the whole series.  As this list suggests, I love characters that make me laugh.  And these two would have me in stitches.  They stay true to who they are always, no matter what.  And again, they are especially loyal.  Let’s not talk about my emotional reaction in book seven.  Let’s just not.

9. Neville Longbottom from Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling

There are so many characters to love in the Harry Potter universe.  I will always root for an underdog.  I loved Neville from the beginning, even when he was an awkward, clumsy wizard.  As he grew in the series and we learned more about his past, I loved him even more.  And then, in The Deathly Hallows…well we all know how important he was there.

10. Coop from Shattering Glass by Gail Giles

At his heart, Coop really is a great guy.  He wants to do well in school and life.  He at times follows the crowd, but he really is a good guy at his core.  As the witness testimonies in the beginning of the chapters suggested something happens to Coop and not just Simon, my heart broke and I worried for him throughout.  I still think about what happened to him in this one.

Who are some of your most memorable secondary characters?

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey: A Review

24 Aug

Title: The 5th Wave

Author: Rick Yancey

Release Date: May 7th, 2013

Format: Hardcover personal purchase

Summary (from Goodreads): The Passage meets Ender’s Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey.

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one!  After it came out, you could not go to any bookstore or visit any site without this book being promoted.  I will admit, I thought it was a zombie book when I first read the summary.  I ended up buying it when I wondered into an independent bookstore by my house.  I figured all the hype might be worth it.  I am so glad I bought it!

The suspense in this book is amazing!  The first night I started reading this, I read only about 20 pages, if that.  I still had a nightmare of an alien invasion.  In said nightmare, I was Cassie wondering the wilderness trying to hide from “The Others.”  I woke up a little freaked out.  This would also not be my last nightmare while I read the book.  I think beginning the book during the fourth wave helps it start off with a bang.  I was held in the suspense Yancey creates all the way through – especially at the end.  I found myself looking at the small number of pages left and still wondering, where is this going to go?  What is going to happen?

I really like Cassie’s character.  I am in awe of her because I am pretty sure in the event of an actual alien attack, I would not make it nearly as far as she did.  She is strong, yet she also shows her doubts and fears.  She also keeps her humanity by sharing her thoughts of the past and present.  Cassie is still a person throughout the novel.  Evan also intrigued me.  However, I do not want to go into too much detail lest I give away some plot points.  He is a very dynamic character, to say the least.

I was not expected the multiple narrators.  That is not to say I didn’t like it.  I really did.  Cassie and “Zombie” are in two very different locations throughout the novel and it helps create a picture of what life on Earth is like at the start of the fifth wave.  Yancey does a great job of tying the two stories together as well.

I do recommend this one, especially if you are looking for something suspenseful and different from the typical alien invasion story or movie.  I am not typically a fan of sci-fi but this one had me in from page 1.

5/5 Stars

The Book Thief Official Movie Trailer

22 Aug

This summer, I finally read Markus Zusak’s book The Book Thief.  I bought it years ago (Boarders was still open and thriving) and started reading it a few times but never stuck with it.  Now having read it, I am not sure why that is.  I gave it 5 Stars on Goodreads.  This is a book that will never leave me.

Now, as with any good book, this one is going to be a movie released on November 15, 2013.  As excited as I am, I am always a little weary when a book I love will be made into a movie.  I mean, Death narrates the story.  How will that translate over?  However, mostly I am excited, especially after seeing the first trailer yesterday.  I have very high hopes for this one!

If you have not yet read the book, consider reading it ASAP.  I know it looks pretty big, but the story moves along once you are into it.  Also, check out the movie trailer below.

Are you looking forward to this one?  What other books-to-movies are you hopeful – or worried – for?

Canary by Rachele Alpine: A Review

20 Aug

Title: Canary

Author: Rachele Alpine

Release Date: August 1, 2013

Format: Paperback ordered from Amazon

Summary (from Goodreads): Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete. 

But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.

Canary is told in a mix of prose and verse.

Canary came onto my radar in the early part of this year when I started to follow The Lucky 13s on Twitter to learn about debut authors this year.  Rachele stood out to me for two reasons – 1. She is also an English teacher which definitely pulled me in; and 2. The story.  I counted down the days until August and I could get my hands on this one.  I was not disappointed.

I loved Alpine’s writing.  I was hooked from page 1!  She develops Kate’s character into a very believable teenage girl.  I could emphasize with Kate throughout the story.  At times, I could see through some of her friends and how they were fake or shallow, but at the same time, I was able to put myself in Kate’s shoes and remember what it is like to be a teenager and her actions were realistic.  I felt so much for Kate that I was heartbroken in how her father handled her assault and wanted to cry for her.  As a reader, I felt Kate’s pain firsthand and ached for her.

Alpine also deals with the themes of grief and loss.  Told through Kate’s flashbacks, we learn more about her mother and what life was like when she was alive.  The emotion is very strong when Kate shares her memories and how much she misses her mom.  Those parts got to me too.

My favorite part of the book is Kate’s blog allmytruths.com.  These are the parts written in beautiful verse.  Not only did I love reading these, the teacher in me was thinking of the amazing writing lessons I could pull from them as well.  My favorite was the entry Kate writes about losing her mom and the statements overheard at the funeral.  The way she blended them together was amazing and powerful.  If you follow the link, Kate’s blog is live and each entry will be published on the specific date from the book.

Do yourself a favor and read this book.  You will not regret it.  I think this one covers many topics students should be aware of and talking about.  The fact is, while Beacon is “an elite private school,” this story could happen anywhere and these are conversations we need to have.  On Day 1 of school, this book will be in my hand and book talked.  My hope is it will be in the hands of a student with more waiting for it.

5/5 Stars

Classroom Initiatives for 2013-14

19 Aug

As the summer is quickly coming to an end, I have been spending time thinking about the coming school year.  I have some initiatives I want to continue and others I hope to begin this school year in my classroom.

Reading AND Writing Everyday 

Last year, students read in my classroom everyday.  I want to keep this going.  However, students have not been writing every day.  This summer, I have been reading Write Beside Them by Penny Kittle.  Reading this text has reminded my just how important it is to write everyday, write along with my students, and discuss the writing process is to students developing their own writing.  Students would write a lot when we were working on an essay or specific writing assignment.  This year, I want to ensure they write each day and use these writings to build up our longer writing assignments.

Interactive Notebooks

To help me accomplish reading and writing everyday, I know students’ notebooks will be very important.   I have been using notebooks for the last two years.  Students have them in their possession each day.  We use them for brainstorming, grammar, craft notes, writing, and we do have a reading section.  The reading section will be built up this year.  I want students to have a “To Read” list, “What I’ve Read” list, and more responses to what they are reading.  I will also strive to have them working in the writing section each day.

Book Talks

These have always been a cornerstone of my classroom ever since I have started SSR and giving students choice in what they are reading.  Last year, my co-teacher Jacqueline and I worked to Book Talk everyday.  I want students to accept sharing and talking about books as a regular part of our day in B-216.  I will start giving the book talks and then hand that off to students to share.  I have to get the books in students hands and not just assume they will find their way to them.

Read Aloud

Two years ago, I read Wonder by RJ Palacio to my tenth graders.  Last year, my ELA Lab students heard two novels by Paul Volponi as we had a Skype visit with him.  Overall, they enjoyed the experience.  I do believe that students of all ages should be read to.  It makes reading enjoyable.  I want to do more reading to my students.  Particularly, I plan on bringing more picture books into the classroom and reading those to students.  Picture books are very powerful, even in high school.

The Workshop Model

I called third trimester last year “The Great Experiment.”  I ran English 10 B inspired by the workshop model.  This worked very well in our writing units, especially Memoir Writing.  Students developed very strong memoirs and more students than before used dialogue properly!  That was a huge bonus for me.  I also applied some aspects of reading workshop to our reading of the whole class novel, Of Mice and Men.  Students really showed evidence of digging into the text and making connections and drawing conclusions I always felt I had to spell out for them.  Our discussions became richer as well this way.  I want to continue this and work it into English 10 A as well.

Conferring

I did it last year.  I faced my fear of conferring with students, even in reading.  I always heard how important it was and why I should confer, but I always feared doing it “wrong.”  Then, one of the presenters at MRA (I can’t remember who right now) said, “Just do it.  Even sitting down and telling the student to “Catch me up” works.”  So I did it.  And students were talking about books and sharing their strategies and we had amazing conversations.  Same with writing.  Students shared what they were working on, felt comfortable asking me questions about what to do, and all around writing improved around the classroom.  I am going to continue practicing this and looking into research around conferring and having those conversations with students.

Article of the Week

Kelly Gallagher promotes his use of Article of the Week.  This helps build students’ background knowledge of what is happening in their world.  It also exposes them to more informational text.  I think this year, I want to begin this assignment and expectation for my students.  I see the power it holds.

What are some of the things you are planning on doing this year?  Any suggestions for my ideas?  I would love to hear from you!