Month: August 2012

Myth #2–I have to Know a Lot About YA Literature

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Let’s face it; we can’t all be Book Whisperers (nod to esteemed colleague and friend Donalyn Miller).  The life of an English teacher usually involves hours bent over essays or perusing the same classical text we’ve taught for the umpteenth time.  When am I supposed to have time to read something for fun let alone books for teens?    

I don’t expect every high school teacher to be a card carrying member of the American Library Association, dedicated to each new issue of School Library Journal.  When I first introduced independent reading or Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) into my classroom routine, I had a grand total of 15 books sitting on the shelf,  five of which were in the Harry Potter series.  
It doesn’t matter where you start as long as you start somewhere.  I don’t care if it’s The Hunger Games or even Twilight.  If your students start to see you as a reader, then they will begin to see that reading has value.

You may not know much about YA when you begin, but by the end of the first month you will have more book recommendations from students, blogs, and your librarian then you know where to make your reading piles.  Until then, here are a few sites to feed your new-found literary habit:

1)  Goodreads.com–a social site that allows users to build shelves (to-be read, reading, read) and organize their reading lists, browe new titles, connect with readers and authors, and rate and review their books. 
2) Teachmentortexts.com–a blog by two teachers who are devoted to sharing books they read that promote all areas of literacy.  The books are reviewed and can be filtered by literacy strand that the bloggers see an opportunity for classroom use as a mentor text.  Using current, exciting young adult literature to teach literacy!  How novel!
3)  YouTube–A simple search for “young adult book trailers” will produce gobs and gobs of professional and fan-made book trailers.  Bre sure to preview trailers before showing them to kids as the quality and content may not always be suitable for classroom use.
4)  Barnes and Noble/ Amazon–both bookseller’s sites have a section for young adult literature, recommendations, reviews, and lists.  Warning:  do not auto-fill your credit card info before browsing as purchasing all the wonderful titles you find becomes very addicting and “just one more book” becomes two boxes full of hardbacks delivered by your local FedEx truck!
5)  Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)–www.ala.org/yalsa  A division of ALA devoted to young adult teachers, librarians, and readers, this organization provides several useful top ten lists compiled by teens themselves.
6)  Figment.com–Here we have another social media site where users can be readers and writers.  There are forums for writers to publish their own work on the site and to browse other user’s writings.  On the reading side, Figment posts latest book news, trailers, author interviews, and reviews. 

A thriving reading community is dependent upon authentic reading role-models.  As the facilitator of the community, the time that you invest in reading in front of your kids and talking about what you are raeding, the more gains you will see in their level of interest. 
I may never be the kind of reader I imagine in my head; I read much more slowly than some might imagine.  Unlike my colleagues, I can’t race through a 400-page novel in one Sunday afternoon.  I don’t know if I’ll ever read ALL of the Newbery books or complete a hundred book challenge.  But, I do know that if I never try, then not only will I never be that reader, but neither will my students. 

How did you make that reading leap?  What book re-invented you as a reader?

Happy reading!

Audrey

Independent Reading Myth #1–Today’s Teens Don’t Read

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There is a heavily engraved image of today’s youth, earbuds as an extension of their actual bodies, thumbs glued to their smart phones.  No where do we see books in their hands.  Today’s youth is uninterested in the simple pleasure of reading.  He would rather be figuring out how to advance to the next level of Halo XXIII or updating his Facebook status about what he ate for dinner.  Not only is he uninterested in the simplicity of the printed word, he doesn’t have the attention span for it.

On the contrary, according to the NEA’s 2008 report, Reading on the Rise, young adults represent the fastest growing subpopulation that have significantly increased their reading habits.  Literary reading as a whole has reversed its downward spiral over the past two decades, increasing by 7% between 2002-2008.  Young adults, who on the last survey showed the steepest decline in 2002 have grown by 9 points, rising fastest out of the whole survey population.  In 2008, 51% of young adults reported that they read novels, short stories, poems, and plays either in print or online. 

The reality is that today’s teens are reading and reading in droves!  Thanks to the popularity of recent blockbuster adaptations of YA series, these exciting and relevant stories are coming into mainstream.  In fact, there is even a movement to include a book award in Fox’s Teen Choice Awards.  YA author Jennifer Donnelly has been an advocate of this movement from the beginning.  I can see it now–Veronica Roth’s Divergent up there next to Lil Wayne and Lady Gaga.

Teens are flocking to stories with strong heroines and nerdy book smart boys.  They are stalking authors like John Greene and Stephanie Meyer with more gusto than any film or radio star.

How do I know this?  Because I talk to them about it. I ask them what they’ve read or who their favorite author is.  I ask them about how they choose books and who among their friends shares the same taste in books as they do.  I ask them what makes a book great and then dangle carrots of curiousity in front of their noses, hoping to lead to discover yet another awesome YA novel.

Then why can’t we seem them doing it? Many of them are reading covertly.  Sadly, in their daily lives reading may not be valued.  Perhaps none of their teachers talk to them about reading for pleasure or even give them time to read something of their choice in class.  Devastating, I know.  Or for some, they are reading in plain view, right under your nose.  E-readers, apps, and digital media have connected a whole generation of “digital natives” to a new look at literary life.  They look like they are scrolling through Facebook?  Nope, they’re flipping as fast as they can through The Summer I Turned Pretty.  Texting a friend?  Nope, they are updating their goodreads shelves and writing reviews of their favorites.
Perhaps it’s not teens whose behaviors and perceptions need a major shift.  Perhaps it’s how we perceive readers themselves and what they read that could use a little adjustment instead.  

Like to think about this a little more?  Check out some of these resources:
“The Young Adult Voice in Research About Young Adults” (YALSA)
“The Kids Books are Alright” (NY Times)
“American Reading Habits Studied”

Please share any resources you may have to contribute to this conversation!

Happy reading 🙂

Audrey

Book Review: A Monster Calls

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I have a deeply routed fear.  It’s been there now, deep in my psyche and weighing on my heart for about a year.  When I least expect, it creeps up like a serpnt from the base of my big toe and wraps itself around my heart.  Air rushes from my lungs and tears fill my eyes.
I’ve become a magnet.  A magnet to stories, blogs, novels, anything regarding parents and children, especially mothers and their sons.  It feels like there’s been an explosion on Facebook of blogs reposted by friends of families who have experienced the loss of a child or a parent.  Their stories lead me to my knees, humbled in the face of my fear.

My fear is two-fold:
1) That I will lose my son.
2) That my son will lose me.
The truth of the matter is- unless a freak and tragic accident takes us both at the same time (God forbid)- one of us will lose the other in our lifetime.  And this is the thought that wakes me up at night and that draws me to stories of loss.

Today, a friend reposted a blog of a mother whose toddler son died from a heart arhythmia during his regular nap.

A couple of months ago, a friend reposted a blog of a husband and father of two young boys, whose wife died very suddenly last fall.

 A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness–Official Book Trailer

I read their stories and beg…whoever is out there to beg…that it not be me and my son.
Recently, I read Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls.  This superb, lovely, painful little book has haunted me ever since.  As the main character’s mother is dying from cancer, he struggles to satiate the monster who calls on him every night at the same time.  At a certain point in the book, the boy steps into the monster and becomes him, wreaking havoc and destruction on his enemies.  And yet, this is not the monster that he fears the most.  What he fears the most is fear itself.  Fear that what he truly wants is for his mother to die to end her pain.  Fear that his mother will die.  Fear that, when the time comes, he cannot let her go.

At night, when the shadows reach across the bed from the tree outside my window, I can feel the yew’s prickly branches and its spicy, woody scent fills my nose. 
I know one day that my fear will be realized.  Until then, I’ll keep reading.  I read to find solace in the inexplicable connection grief can weave between strangers.  I read to unearth glints of understanding and patterns to try to ratioanlize why a mother would ever have to lose a child or a child ever to have to live without its mother.  But I know that just as this Winter will turn to Spring,  there is life on the otherside.  It’s a life I never want to understand. 

But until then, I’ll read.

My fear does bring me joy.  It’s started to become my companion during the day, especially when a toddler tantrum raises feelings of frustration.  My fear whispers, “someday, these moments will be memories.  Someday your arms will ache to wrap themselves around him and he will not be there.  Someday he will long to hear you say his name and whisper, “I love you,” but you will not be there.”  And so, in those moments and every moment in between I will say his name and whisper as I wrap my arms around him, “I love you. I love you.  I love you.”

Urban YA Top Ten

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Urban YA Top Ten List

In preparation for compiling a top ten list, I asked a good friend of mine if I could raid her English department library to brush up on my urban YA lit. As we poured over titles in a colleague’s classroom library, she asked, “How are you defining ‘urban YA?'”

I paused. “Well, YA titles with urban settings I guess?” (Dur).

I started to rattle off a number of what I felt to be obvious criteria: issues that deal with street violence, gangs, drugs, racial conflict, teen pregnancy, homeless teens, obscene language….and I stopped myself. Here I was, attempting to define a literary genre with every clichĂ© that so many of my students are slapped with every day. I wouldn’t limit my understanding of my own students with these labels; how incredibly unfair of me to do it to the books they love!

Not only are these selections never sitting on the shelf collecting dust, they represent the realities of so many of our students whose stories traditionally have not been included in the literature we teach (or the titles with which we stock our classroom libraries). As a reading teacher, the following titles are “friends,” who I would gladly throw myself on my proverbial sword for if challenged, because the truth of the matter is these books could be challenged. Easily. The urban landscapes painted in these works are not only vivid and real, but their truth and complexity draws students into them, not the risquĂ© four-letter words and adult scenes that keep pages turning and librarians cringing. The plots, while containing very adult themes, contain rays of hope amidst the stark realism of life on the streets for the protagonists who exhibit tremendous depth.

Lastly, I most appreciate these books for the sense of personal and reading identity they inspire in their reader. For many, these books are their first experiences with the sheer joy of reading. In these books, students recognize themselves, perhaps for the first time in their reading lives.


Top Ten Urban YA List (in alphabetical order):

Bronx

Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

“When Wesley Boone writes a poem for his high school English class and reads it aloud, poetry-slam-style, he kicks off a revolution. Soon his classmates are clamoring to have weekly poetry sessions. One by one, eighteen students take on the risky challenge of self-revelation…” (goodreads.com).

The power of the spoken word–of poetry to bring down walls and build bridges. The experience of reading Bronx Masquerade aloud with my students not only helped to shape their reading identities as they could relate to the myriad of characters who lend their voices, but it also allowed us to explore our own stories through poetry. This title is one where students feel compelled to write in response to and in imitation of the student voices they recognize so well.

First_part

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

“Bobby’s a classic urban teenager. He’s restless. He’s impulsive. But the thing that makes him different is this: He’s going to be a father. His girlfriend, Nia, is pregnant, and their lives are about to change forever…” (goodreads.com)

This is one book that I brought to my classroom after finding it tucked away in the corner of a YA stack in a local used books store. It came to class on a Monday, I book-talked it in each class, and on Tuesday morning it was gone, never to be seen again. But, I would hear about it in passing from my students who shared it among themselves, and then from their friends and friends of friends in the hallway. It is such a gentle book. I don’t know how else to describe it other than that the tenderness and sincerity of the narrator, Bobby, is like a feather lofting through a breeze. And so does the book, float from reader to reader. Even my most hardened non-readers find something familiar in Bobby’s struggle to be a single, teenage father and the heart-breaking loss he keeps tucked away
Homeboyz

Homeboyz

by Alan Sitomer

“When Teddy Anderson’s little sister Tina is gunned down randomly in a drive-by shooting, the gangstas who rule the streets in the Anderson family’s rapidly deteriorating neighborhood dismiss the incident as just another case of RP, RT-wrong place, wrong time. According to gangsta logic, Tina doesn’t even count as a statistic …” (goodreads.com).

In readers’ notebooks, I often find pages upon pages of students’ thoughts and reactions to this novel. Many of them feel they are Teddy. Empathy is hard to come by in many teens; Sitomer’s skill at painting characters who devolve truthfully through the course of the story enables the teen reader to put himself in another’s shoes.

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Monster by Walter Dean Meyers

“Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I’ll call it what the lady who is the prosecutor called me. MONSTER” (goodreads.com).

Written as a screenplay, Monster is quickly devoured by any reader who opens to the first page of scrolling, Star Wars-esque credits. For some, however, reading a screenplay can be every bit as challenging as a full-length novel. But, once they embrace the form and listen as Steve stands behind and in front of the camera to try to process what has happened to him they are hooked to the end. Many readers feel compelled by the injustice as Myers masterfully paints the portrait of “the-boy-next-door” who made one mistake and is exposed to the harsh consequences of youth.

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The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

“Written over forty years ago, S. E. Hinton’s classic story of the struggle between the Socs and the Greasers remains as powerful today as it was the day it was written, and it is taught in schools nationwide…” (goodreads.com)

Come on. Really? How could I not include the grand-daddy of all urban YA Lit?! I toyed with it, of course. But in the end, this timeless story still appeals to a wide array of readers in my high school classroom. Many students first encountered the book in middle school. In fact, in their reading biographies they write for me in the beginning of the year, The Outsiders, is the #1 book mentioned that they finished reading! Ever! With that kind of staying power, how could it not be on any top ten YA llist. Ponyboy is a reminder of the ever-present “socs” and “greasers” in the microcosm of high school.

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Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

“When Brittany Ellis walks into chemistry class on the first day of senior year, she has no clue that her carefully created “perfect” life is about to unravel before her eyes. She’s forced to be lab partners with Alex Fuentes, a gang member from the other side of town, and he is about to threaten everything she’s worked so hard for—her flawless reputation, her relationship with her boyfriend, and the secret that her home life is anything but perfect…” (goodreads.com).

Yes, it’s true; this is a re-told Romeo and Juliet…sort of. Perfect Chemistry is a prime example of the urban novel that crosses over from a landscape of privilege to challenge (Thomas, 2011). Even though the story and characters might border on clichĂ©, the universal appeal and high-drama keep this book from collecting any dust on the shelf. I always find it interesting to watch the conversations between unlikely students that this novel sparks. Girls and boys alike of all backgrounds line up to read it and its subsequent sequels. They dub themselves the “Alex and Brittany Fan Club.””


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The Rose that Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur

“This collection of more than 100 poems that honestly and artfully confront topics ranging from poverty and motherhood to Van Gogh and Mandela is presented in Tupac Shakur’s own handwriting on one side of the page, with a typed version on the opposite side” (goodreads.com).
I happened upon this tiny book by luck in the bargain bin at Borders Bookstore. I immediately saw its potential to engage students in poetry, but I couldn’t have imagined the fire it would ignite in my students. Not only were they astonished that they were allowed to read Tupac, they were thrilled to finally understand what I meant when I talked about choice–I really meant they had the freedom to choose books of their own interest. His collection of poetry became a gateway for students who would go on to Tupac’s biography, and then Jacquelin Woodson’s Tupac and D Foster, and into the worlds of Sitomer, Myers, and Drake.

Tyrell

Tyrell by Coe Booth

…”Tyrell is a young, African American teen who can’t get a break. He’s living (for now) with his spaced-out mother and little brother in a homeless shelter. His father’s in jail. …. Tyrell feels he needs to score some money to make things better. Will he end up following in his father’s footsteps?” (goodreads.com).

Honestly, Tyrell had me blushing at times when I read it. I wondered how I could bring it into my class library without drawing too much attention. Luckily, my students have learned the value of discretion, especially when they find a book they love. What I love about Tyrell is that he is a deeply sensitive, complex, conflicted teenage boy…aren’t they all? The age-old father/ son conflict plays like a soundtrack behind the reading of this novel, even though the father character never makes an actual appearance. We see all kinds of women as well, who are brought to life through a sixteen-year old’s eyes. Despite the dire circumstances and odds, Tyrell inspires hope.

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The Skin I’m in by Sharon Flake
“Maleeka suffers every day from the taunts of the other kids in her class. If they’re not getting at her about her homemade clothes or her good grades, it’s about her dark, black skin.

When a new teacher, whose face is blotched with a startling white patch, starts at their school, Maleeka can see there is bound to be trouble for her too. But the new teacher’s attitude surprises Maleeka. Miss Saunders loves the skin she’s in. Can Maleeka learn to do the same?” (goodreads.com).

How I love this book! I wish I could put this in the hands of every adolescent teenage girl, no matter their ethnicity, race, nationality, geography, or belief. I often need a box of Kleenex close buy as I read young girls’ responses to Maleeka’s struggle to accept and LOVE herself as she is. I swear, I think they walk a little taller by the end of this book.

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Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanan

“Baby, the first thing I need to know from you is do you believe I killed my father?”

“So begins Upstate, a powerful story told through letters between seventeen-year-old Antonio and his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Natasha, set in the 1990’s in New York. Antonio and Natasha’s world is turned upside down, and their young love is put to the test, when Antonio finds himself in jail, accused of a shocking crime…” (goodreads.com).

(Confession) I haven’t actually finished Upstate. I don’t remember how it came to be in my library collection. I know I picked it up a few times and put it down, feeling that it was too trite, superficial, and explicit for my taste. But, out of desperation to get a certain reluctant teen reading, I placed it in her hands, and it spread like wildfire. I have faith in this book after reading about its characters in many response notebooks. My current copy has been “permanently borrowed,” but I’m not upset about it; I know it’s out there, floating from reader to reader inspiring hope.

Finally, I’d like to end with a poem that represents the Urban YA genre to me and its place in my classroom library:

Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.

~Tupac Shakur, The Rose that Grew from Concrete

Reference:

Thomas, Ebony Elizabeth, “Landscapes of City and Self: Place and Identity in Urban Young Adult Literature” (2011). Faculty Publications. Paper 3. http://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/coe_ted/3

Myths Surrounding Independent Reading in High School

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Often, when I’m out visiting with teachers and consulting, I make the positive presupposition (Thank you Kathryn Kee! ) that teachers are having their students read a text of their choice everyday.  I might make such comments as, “This would be an easy strategy to integrate into students’ independent response time during their free reading time in class.”  Or, “When you book-talk to your students, you might frame it in terms of genre…”

Sometimes I receive polite head-nods and sometimes I receive eye-rolling.  Independent reading time in a high school English classroom?  (And unicorns poop rainbows.)
Every now and then, I’m greatful for the honest and inquisitive participant who timidly raises her hand to ask, “What exactly do you mean by ‘independent reading’?”  She is usually within her first 5 years of teaching,  graduated from a stellar English literature/ composition program, and is the dark horse of the English department who spends her time reading things like  English Journal or following Jim Burke on Twitter.

When these gems come my way, I leap at the opportunity to unravel some perpetuative myths that exist in high school English departments and their most faithful faculty regarding independent reading.  These conversations allow me to dig down to my most fervent beliefs about reading communities and often do challenge some of those beliefs.  But, by the end of our conversation, whereas we may not still agree with one another, both the participant and myself have expanded our views just a little bit broader. 

And so, here they are!  The top 5 most common myths surrounding independent reading in high school: 
Myth #1–Today’s teenagers don’t read.
Myth #2–I have to know a lot about YA literature.
Myth #3–Students won’t read in class if I give them time.
Myth #4–It’ll mean more time spent on grading poster and book reports or messing with those leveled reading programs.
Myth #5–I don’t have the time.  We have all this literature we have to “cover.”

Boiling down all of the– honestly– valid obstacles to independent reading I have encountered myself and heard from colleagues to these five things is probably oversimplifying the issue.  If I’ve learned anything about problem solving as an educator, it’s that I need to start with what seems simple first.  Then, as I work my way through one problem at a time, the larger obstacle doesn’t feel quite so overwhelming. 

As a novice teacher, the five statements above floated above my head as I began to dig more into the possibility I knew was there for amazing reading experiences for myself and my students.  Please understand, I am not trying to be-little anyone’s experience or perspective.  The following “myths” I’ll offer as a series of posts echo my deepest, darkest, and most powerful experiences along my own journey. 

More importanlty than de-bunking these “myths,”  I hope to provide a snippet of success here and there and resources that I rely on to create a transformative, empowering reading community. 

Happy reading!

Myth #1

Myth #2

Myth #3

Myth #4

Myth #5

Book Review: Insurgent

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Originally written for nerdybookclub.wordpress.com on May 23rd, 2012
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love (Goodreads.com).

What would you choose if you only had one choice:  bravery, honesty, selflessness, knowledge, or peace?  If all of your actions, your relationships, your being were to be determined by only one of these traits, what would be your choice?? 

The futuristic society of Veronica Roth’s Divergent has determined that the one way to combat the darkness of human nature is to divide itself into five factions, each faction devoted to one of the pre-determined necessary human qualities. Sixteen-year old Beatrice (Tris) Prior’s journey begins with a choosing ceremony.  (Sound familiar?) Unlike her peers, Tris has a much broader spectrum of who she could become.  Her choice takes her to a foreign world on the other side of the tracks in downtown Chicago where there’s a fine line between bravery and bullying, courage and cowardice. 
Suddenly, she finds herself at the center of a social and political civil war.  As Divergent closes we find ourselves speeding away on a train through the heart of Chicago seeking sanctuary from those who once stood by Tris, protected her,  glowing in the warmth of her new-found relationship with fellow Dauntless, Four,  and  suspended as  she yearns for redemption from her overwhelming guilt.
Insurgent is a remarkable exploration of human nature and motivation.  It’s an experiment in societal reform.  When society has so divided itself that it can no longer function as a cohesive organism what happens to those who have been abused and their abusers?     As the consequences of her fatal choice in Divergent fall like dominoes, faster than she can process, her dearest relationships are endangered;  her self-searching and determination to understand the truth about who she is at the foreground of a crumbling societey. 
True to many other “seconds” in a series, I found myself spending a painful amount of time teetering at the edge of our hero’s abyss.   In the first installation, we walk with Beatrice through the threshold (Divergent fans recall Tris catapulting herself from a rooftop) as she finds a loyal band of followers and undergoes a series of tests and trials as part of her initiation.  Once her quest is determined in Insurgent, other figures emerge as part of the dystopian landscape: the evil figure with the untimely good heart, the temptress, even death and rebirth.  As her plunge into the abyss drawers nearer, she must go deeper and deeper into her most fearsome landscape– her own soul– in order to proceed with her journey of self-discovery.
It is impossible to ignore the similarities between Tris Prior, Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Todd Hewitt, Cassia Reyes and countless other YA sci-fi/ fantasy heroes, teens teetering at the edge of their own awakening to their true powers.  Every one of their societies is fighting to analyze, sort, and label who they will become.  The societies and settings, too, bare familiarities leading me to believe that Gale or Katniss will suddenly appear, running alongside the train with Four and the other Dauntless.  I hear Manchee’s searching “Todd?” from under some discarded street rubble.  At any moment, I expect Hermione to pop out of the Erudite crowd, toting a long lost volume that holds the key to what really lies outside of the fence. 
And so, as I sprinted through the final chapter and the shadows on the wall were revealed to me as they are revealed during the jaw-dropping finale, I couldn’t help but wonder …Why are we so drawn to adolescent heroes who are standing on a precipice, waiting and daring to take such a leap, whether it be bravery or curiosity that compels them?
 There is no denying the sudden rise in popularity of dystopian literature.  A recent Goodreads blog examined the growing trend in popularity of dystopian novels and described its over-arching themes over the last 50 years.  The blogger labels this latest explosion (The Hunger Games, Matched, Diverent) as “Romance” Dystopian and sites such inspirations as 9/11, War on Terrorism, and the prevalence of pop culture.  Tough heroines and anti-conformity drive these stories. 
After reading Divergent and now Insurgent, I am taken back to an Erudite’s explanation,
“Insurgent,” he says.  “Noun.  A person who acts in opposition to the established authority, who is not necessarily regarded as a belligerent. “ 
Do I hear anti-conformity?  Oh , yes.  But I think it extends beyond being radical, to being purposeful.  In a futuristic society where every member knows his or her purpose as it is handed down to him or her, where does that leave free-will?  As a constructivist, this resonates with me.  As information is funneled into our teens (as it so often is at many bytes per minute), they are persistently bombarded with labels, categories, and profiles, what choices then are left to them to determine what their truth is? 
Are we–all of us as educators, librarians, readers–not all insurgent, seeking truth for ourselves and then deciding how we will assimilate that truth into who we are and what motivates us?
Are teens devouring dystopian literature for their love triangles and star-crossed lovers?  Yes, probably.  But, are they also entering a landscape of their own fears, beliefs, doubts, and dreams in order to choose what they will take with them as they emerge from their own abyss and cross the impending threshold into adulthood?  Absolutely!

Book Review: Code Name Verity

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Code Name Verity.
By Elizabeth Wein.
2012, 337p.  Hyperion, $16.99 (978-1-4231-5219-4).
Gr. 9-12
Highly Recommended
            Under pain of torture and threat of brutal execution, Verity, a Scottish-British spy, artfully confesses to her Gestapo captors her involvement in the Resistance.  Her confession is penned on scraps of paper—everything from prescription pads to sheet music–belonging to former inhabitants of a country hotel in fictional Ormaie, France.  Through a physically, mentally, and emotionally excruciating written confession, we meet her best friend and civilian air corps pilot, Maddie, who flew her on her last mission.  Although the novel begins in medias res, Verity, in a defiant, sarcastic, and, at times, beaten tone begins with her best friend’s story up until the point she jumps from Maddie’s wounded plane in occupied France.  It is here that Maddie continues the narrative through her pilot’s notes in her simple, honest voice.  Maddie and Verity’s friendship is not one based on boys, clothes, or summer camp; instead, Wein crafts a narrative told in two voices that paints a portrait of genuine friendship in wartime.  A cast of secondary characters on both sides of the war provides depth and contrast to the two friends’ lives.  As historical fiction, some may be bothered by the inventive history and anachronisms, but the author seeks to justify her creative and research processes in the endnotes.  The narrators’ voices are in all essence la verite, truthful.  In the beginning a reader might feel bogged-down by the Scottish brag of Verity’s voice and minute details; however, once immersed in the relationship between the two young women, they will want to prolong the finale and their farewell to these friends. –Audrey Wilson-Youngblood

Prezi and QR: The Next Wave of Information Delivery

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Tech Tuesday #1

Welcome to the first edition of Tech Tuesday!  Each Tuesday I will post a blog that highlights technology tools for instructional use.  This week, I thought we’d take some time to explore two tools that I shared with the staff at Fossil Ridge High School as part of library orientation:  Prezi and QR Codes.

Both of these tools have the potential to engage an audience by disseminating information through Web 2.0 tools and smart apps.  Both are free (whoop!) and both are rather intuitive for the presenter and the audience.



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Prezi

Prezi has taken the 20th century PowerPoint presentation into the 21st Century by creating a program that is web-based–enhancing accessibility for creators–and adding dynamic layers, motion, and animation to present a variety of media and information.  Imagine an animated mash-up of your best PowerPoints, videos, images, and text and voila!  Prezi. 

You might consider using a Prezi when introducing a new concept, unit, or theme (Think “view” in VESTED).  Even a three-four minute “viewing” could jump start students’ natural curiousity and help to build background.  Open House is coming up soon; play with transforming your PowerPoint into a Prezi to wow your parents.  Using the html code, you can even embed your Prezi on your class web page to provide an engaging introduction.

Students can use Prezi as a vehicle to synthesize information and create original presentations through a “mash-up” of media .  Since it is online and free, access is open to all students.  Students can collaborate to create the Prezi together on their own devices whether from home or at school. Prezi has also created an iPad app that allows the user to download and view shared and saved presentations.  The editing feature, however, is limited and not very conducive to enhancing the presentation through the iPad.

To get staretd, go to Prezi.com, create an account and watch a couple of their easy-to-follow video tutorials.  Start small and give yourself plenty of time to become comfortable with the tool before trying it out on an audience.


Check out some of these teacher Prezis for more ideas!

Class Introductions:


Jazz History

 

Quick Response “QR” Codes





QR codes are customizable barcodes that allow the presenter to provide quick links to online resources such as pages, videos, blogs, forms, etc.  To create a QR Code, go to one of the several QR Code Generator sites such as:
After pasting in a link, the generator will provide you with a downloadable .jpeg or .png file that can be inserted as an image into a document. QR codes can even be scanned off of a screen during a presentation (you might remember the funny looking barcode at the end of my library orientation presentation).
Your audience can then use their smart phones to scan the code and go directly to the information.  All they need is one of several free QR Reader apps:
Different apps are available for various cellular devices (Android, iPhone, etc.). 
What type of information works well with QR Codes?  Online forms, videos, blogs, teacher websites all work well on smart phone devices.  You might stear clear from using QR codes on smart phones for pages that include a lot of visual information or text as they can be difficult to read on a phone unless the site has a mobile version.  QR codes work great when integrated with instruction to respond to surveys and forms or to quickly link students to class pages and frequently used sites.  One school last year posted their individual class websites on each teacher door at open house.  Parents scanned the QR code and automatically received contact and class information to their devices.
Check out this article from t.h.e Journal showcasing one high school science teacher’s experiences with integrating mobile device technology and QR codes into his classroom.
We are continually bombarded with information delievered in innovative and engaging ways.  Rather than rowing against the tide, let’s harness a few tools to help our students be more critical consumers who can create new solutions and innovations as a result of the unlimited amount of information at their fingertips.
Have you used a Prezi or QR code in your class?  We’d love to hear about your successes and struggles in the comments below!

I Read The Hunger Games, Now What?

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20 Books to Check Out After The Hunger Games

Did you speed through The Hunger Games trilogy with the speed of a tribute train?  Are you sorely missing the excitement and drama of the arena?  While you wait for Catching Fire, second film and book two of The Hunger Games trilogy, to be released on November 22, 2013 (15 more months!!!), check out some of these books that might help pass the time between films.  Click on the title to view book trailers, authors’ pages, and reviews of each title!

The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood
Throughout her career, Margaret Atwood has played with different literary genres in her novels–historical fiction (Alias Grace), pulp fiction (The Blind Assassin), the comedy of manners (The Robber Bride)–but no foray into genre fiction has been as successful as her turn to speculative fiction in The Handmaid’s Tale. Published in 1985, it echoes Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, but a vibrant feminism drives Atwood’s portrait of a futuristic dystopia. In the Republic of Gilead, we see a world devastated by toxic chemicals and nuclear fallout and dominated by a repressive Christian fundamentalism. The birthrate has plunged, and most women can no longer bear children. Offered is one of Gilead’s Handmaids, who as official breeders are among the chosen few who can still become pregnant.
 Maze Runner by James Dashner
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls. Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift. Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.
Matched by Allie Condie
Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate… until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.
Shatter me by Tahereh Mafi
Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days. The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color. The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war– and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now. Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.
Gone by Micheal Grant

In the blink of an eye.
Everyone disappears.
Gone.
Everyone except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not a single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Gone, too, are the phones, internet, and television. There is no way to get help.
Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents—unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers—that grow    stronger by the day (Amazon.com).

From the co-creator of the bestselling “Animorphs” comes a gripping new series in which everyone disappears in a flash on their 15th birthday. It’s a terrifying new world, and time is running out.

  
  
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
 A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.
Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives. But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
 Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love — the deliria — blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy. But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love
Grave Mercy by Robin Lafavers
 Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others. Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?
Birthmarked– In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those, like sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone, who live outside. Following in her mother’s footsteps Gaia has become a midwife, delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be “advanced” into the privileged society of the Enclave. Gaia has always believed this is her duty, until the night her mother and father are arrested by the very people they so loyally serve. Now Gaia is forced to question everything she has been taught, but her choice is simple: enter the world of the Enclave to rescue her parents, or die trying. A stunning adventure brought to life by a memorable heroine, this dystopian debut will have readers racing all the way to the dramatic finish.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
 In a future Chicago, 16-year-old Beatrice Prior must choose among five predetermined factions to define her identity for the rest of her life, a decision made more difficult when she discovers that she is an anomaly who does not fit into any one group, and that the society she lives in is not perfect after all.
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
 The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.
Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
 Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she’s never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim.

The Lost Code by Kevin Emerson
What is oldest will be new, what was lost shall be found. The ozone is ravaged, ocean levels have risen, and the sun is a daily enemy.
But global climate change is not something new in the Earth’s history. No one will know this better than less-than-ordinary Owen Parker, who is about to discover that he is the descendant of a highly advanced ancient race–a race that took their technology too far and almost destroyed the Earth in the process. Now it is Owen’s turn to make right in his world what went wrong thousands of years ago. If Owen can unlock the lost code in his very genes, he may rediscover the forgotten knowledge of his ancestry . . . and that “less-than-ordinary” can evolve into “extraordinary.” Kevin Emerson’s thrilling novel is Book One of the Atlanteans series–perilous adventures in a grimly plausible dystopian future, fueled by high-stakes action, budding romance, and a provoc-ative question: What would you do if you had the power to save humanity from its own self-destruction?
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men. Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered. With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
 When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing — not even a smear of blood — to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy? This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . . . Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare’s ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.
Graceling– by Kristin Cashore
“His eyes, Katsa had never seen such eyes. One was silver, and the other, gold. They glowed in his sun-darkened face, uneven, and strange. She was surprised that they hadn’t shone in the darkness of their first meeting. They didn’t seem human….Then he raised his eyebrows a hair, and his mouth shifted into the hint of a smirk. He nodded at her, just barely, and it released her from her spell.Cocky, she thought. Cocky and arrogant, this one, and that was all there was to make of him. Whatever game he was playing, if he expected her to join him he would be disappointed.”
In a world where people born with an extreme skill – called a Grace – are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him. When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graces with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
 In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training. Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister. Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world, if, that is, the world survives. Ender’s Game is the winner of the 1985 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
Ship Breaker– In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota–and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life… In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.

White Cat– Cassel comes from a family of Curse Workers – people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all criminals. Many become mobsters and con artists. But not Cassel. He hasn’t got magic, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail – he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago. Cassel has carefully built up a facade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his facade starts to crumble when he finds himself sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He’s noticing other disturbing things too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he must unravel his past and his memories. To find out the truth, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.
 Reviews from Goodreads.com

Final Course Reflection

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Audrey Wilson-Youngblood
SLIS 5720
Blog Post #4
Final Reflection
I began my exploration as a new teacher considering technology integration with an eagerness to “get it right.”  Oftentimes, I became frustrated with myself and my students when a lesson or project that centered around technology failed.  My many attempts at MovieMaker, for example, left me disenchanted with the possibilities of digital storytelling.  However, curiousity and perseverance prevailed as I hesitantly but patiently continued to seek and try resources and instructional technology.  After several more years and a change of position, I gained back some of the confidence I’d lost.   Like the pre-service teachers in Daniella Smith’s (2010) article, “Making the case for the leadership role of school librarians in technology integration” who “lacked the knowledge to link Web 2.0 technology to classroom activities” I, too, needed to find a support system that allowed me to collaborate with other teachers seeking to effectively integrate technology into the classroom. 
In my initial technology assessment, I commented on my strength as a professional development leader and the knowledge of specific technology tools I gained while in a coaching position.  It was there that I realized how important embedded professional development is even for “digital natives [who] need instruction in how to transition to teachers who use advanced and assistive technology in the classroom” (Smith, 2010, p. 619).  As a professional development team, we spent most of our time demonstrating various tools, but we failed to provide support for teachers as they sought to integrate the them, “moving them from structuralism to student-centered constructivist activities” as Smith discussed with pre-service librarians (2010, p. 620).   Due to the structure of our position and limitations of our roles, little to no follow-up training was available for teachers.  Now I am validated by the importance of a “supportive infrastructure that includes support for teacher initiative and involvement” (Smith, 2010, p. 620).
                         I’m now able to reflect upon the type of campus leader I hope to become.  As a “transformational leader” I will work with campus leadership “to empower school stakeholders such as teachers, community leaders, parents, and students, which serves numerous purposes [creating] long-term reform” (Smith, 2010, p. 621).  To facilitate the creation of a “shared vision” I plan to initiate a library advisory committee.  I see an opportunity for the committee to not only consider the new direction of the library as an information center, but also to pilot a “Bring Your Own Device” project.  By allowing students to bring and use their own devices, teachers can bypass much of the headache our campuses lack of instructional technology or outdated technology often causes.  My role as a leader and instructional specialist will be to support teachers as they seek to integrate various Web 2.0 tools into their instructional practices.  Several products of this course including the blog and website will enable me to provide “on-demand” professional development supporting the work of this team. 
                        As I look ahead, I continue to gather the numerous tools we’ve explored in the course and utilize my new Diigo account to bookmark, organize and synthesize information I come across so that I can then share it with others.  I find RSS feeds to be particularly useful and have subscribed to sites such as digitalshift.com and digitalis.nwp.org, both of which are platforms for educators to share, discuss, and collaborate on topics related to digital literacy and the integration of technology into the learning process.  I’ve found and subscribed to a number of blogs, which refer me to even more blogs and sites.  Most importantly, I’ve discovered a network of colleagues who are my teachers and who will continue to share their resources and experiences.  Some of these colleagues are organizing into a digital committee on my campus.  Other colleagues are part of national communities of learners and educators. 
My learning experiences in the course allowed me to move from confidence to efficacy as a teacher who integrates technology.  My goal for myself was to broaden my knowledge of various tools.  Like the pre-service librarians my “confidence seemed to be closely aligned with [my] knowledge of technology tools” (Smith, 2010, p. 626).  I now feel that not only have I gained more knowledge than I anticipated, but I also have numerous resources to continue to explore once the course is over.  I relate to the pre-service librarian who wrote, “I try new technology more readily.  I am not afraid to fail if it helps me learn to succeed” (Smith, 2010, p. 624).  I’ve come to understand that where technological integration is involved, learning is part of the struggle. 
Daniella Smith, (2010) “Making the case for the leadership role of school librarians in technology integration”, Library Hi Tech, Vol. 28 Iss: 4, pp.617 – 631.  DOI:  http://libproxy.library.unt.edu:2199/10.1108/07378831011096277