MRA in Review


This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Michigan Reading Association Annual Conference for the second year in a row.  I love attending MRA because not only do I get to catch up with some of my amazing friends and fellow educators, but I am always inspired after attending.  MRA gives me an extra boost to get through the last third of the school year.

Friday night was a great night of fellowship with my Nerdy Book Club friends.  These people are amazing!  And guess what…you probably are already a member!  Do you like to read?  You do?  Membership granted.  In all seriousness, check out their blog here.  Very inspiring and motivating and a great community of readers.

I went to a number of sessions on Saturday.  I just want to go over some highlights so not to overwhelm with too much information…

Male/Female Differences that Affect Literacy

This session was just fascinating!  It talked about the differences in brain development among males and females.  Probably the strongest point that hit me is that both males and females do not reach convergence (when both eyes focus) until the age of 7!  And when do we start school?  In Michigan, the age is currently 5.  Finland, a country with amazing reading scores, does not start until 7.  There is something to said here.  I also understand a little more about behaviors my students exhibit in class – and behaviors of my husband as well!

Short Reads for Tall Kids with Ruth Culham

I have heard a little about the 6 +1 Traits when it comes to writing.  However, I did not know too much since it is very geared to elementary and middle school.  I am so glad I went to this session!  There are definite applications to high school.  Culham showed us how mentor texts help with writing, as I have definitely learned, and how to apply the traits to help students revise.  In writing, I really have to work on revising.  It is so important to the process and yet, it gets ignored quite a bit.  You can learn more about Culham’s work here.

Literature Circles in Secondary Classroom

To be honest, there are a few other sessions I would have liked to see at this time as I look back.  This was more about Lit Circles in general and we have been using them for two years now.  (Though I will admit I am nowhere near an expert!)  I did pick up on a few great ideas.  First of all, use literature circles with informational texts.  Genius really.  I also want to try lit circles with whole class books as well.  I plan on trying that in Honors 10 this coming trimester.  Jacqueline and I are already planning how to do it in English 10 B as well.

Lightship Titles with Paul W. Hankins

I had the honor to meet Paul last year at MRA and enjoy following him on Twitter and his posts on Facebook as well.  He shared some great titles and reminded us the power of sharing books with our students.  I appreciated his honesty and what he shared with us.  Community is so important for readers.  I can always be reminded of that and appreciate my community, or “tribe,” each and every day.

On to Sunday…

Close Reading with Erica Beaton and Dave Stuart

With the CCSS, close reading is very important.  Erica and Dave did an EXCELLENT job showing how there are many things we are already doing that supports CCSS and helps our students all the more.  They gave a great purpose for close reading – to support our understanding and doing something with the information.  They gave a great process to follow in close reading and they helped me reconsider how I approach argumentative writing and how to help my students develop their arguments.  They have posted their Prezi which I highly recommend you check out and follow up by reading their blogs and Tweets.

Reading Notebooks

I learned that, basically, I need 150 page notebooks to make sure my students are using them to write and talk about reading.  Another goal is that I do want to use notebooks more for writing AND reading.  I also learned about an excellent resource at Biblionasium.  It’s like Goodreads but tailored more for the classroom.  I am introducing it to my Lab kids next week.  I’m excited to see where this takes us!

Kelly Gallagher Keynote

A perfect way to end the conference was with Kelly Gallagher!  I have seen him before talk about reading and I loved hearing more about his approaches to writing.  Writing is so vital to our students’ success.  And students need mentor texts to learn how to write.  They also need practice.  My ultimate goal with writing is to encourage more revising and help my students see what a process writing really is.

I cannot wait for MRA next year!  They teased us with a look at next year…make sure you consider being there!  I am so thankful to my colleagues, friends, and fellow Nerdy Book Club members for an inspiring weekend!


Prisoner B-3087: A Review

Title: Prisoner B-3087

Author: Alan Gratz

Genre: Historical Fiction – Holcaust

Release Date: March 1st, 2013

SourceARC from NetGalley

Summary (from Goodreads): Survive. At any cost.

10 concentration camps.

10 different places where you are starved, tortured, and worked mercilessly.

It’s something no one could imagine surviving.

But it is what Yanek Gruener has to face.

As a Jewish boy in 1930s Poland, Yanek is at the mercy of the Nazis who have taken over. Everything he has, and everyone he loves, have been snatched brutally from him. And then Yanek himself is taken prisoner — his arm tattooed with the words PRISONER B-3087.

He is forced from one nightmarish concentration camp to another, as World War II rages all around him. He encounters evil he could have never imagined, but also sees surprising glimpses of hope amid the horror. He just barely escapes death, only to confront it again seconds later.

Can Yanek make it through the terror without losing his hope, his will — and, most of all, his sense of who he really is inside?

Based on an astonishing true story.

Jessica’s Review:

I found this title from a blog I follow The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say Shhh when she reviewed it.  I noted she received the book from NetGalley, so I immediately put in a request.  It seemed like a book to add to my radar for the historical fiction research project.  I was approved later that same day and started the book right away.  I finished it in about 2 days.

Overall, I really liked this book.  I was immediately pulled in with the idea that Yanek survived stays at 10 different concentration camps AND it is based on a true story.  Prisoner B-3087 begins when Yanek is just ten-years-old living in Poland with his parents and among his aunts and uncles in 1939.  Germany takes over Poland and Yanek watches as his neighborhood, Krakow, is walled in and turned into a Jewish ghetto.  He and his family live in the harsh conditions of the Krakow ghetto, even hiding in a pigeon coop to escape the violent treatment of Nazi soldiers, for three years.  Yanek eventually watches his parents and family members marched out of the ghetto, never to see them again.  Yanek himself is deported to the Plaszow Concentration Camp in 1942 where he was put to hard labor, watched the camp commander kill Jews for sport, and struggled to survive on little food and in insanitary conditions.  Over the next three years, Yanek is transferred to nine other concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and takes part in two death marches.  Yanek does come close to death many times, but he vows to survive and hang on to some type of hope, no matter how small.

This book hit me hard in a number of ways.  I know there is a lot of Historical Fiction about the Jewish Holocaust, but personally, this is on of the first I have read with complete focus on life inside all the difference camps.  Books I have read are told from another point-of-view, an outsider looking in.  (Not to say that there is not more like this; that is just what I have read.)  Instead, Yanek walks the reader through his experiences at each camp and what he say happening to other human beings.  In one camp, Yanek explains how circus animals are treated better than the prisoners.  I felt anger and sadness as to how people could do this to other human beings for so long and actually feel they were in the right.  The book made me thankful for the life I have been blessed with.  The author note at the end was intriguing as well, as Gratz tells about Jack Gruener, whom the book is based on.

There is something lacking from the writing , however.  While I still had strong reactions to what Yanek experienced, overall, emotion is missing from most of the writing. I was surprised at time at how I felt some experiences were glossed over.  I did feel somewhat of a connection to Yanek, but not as strong as I would have expected.  Despite this, the book is still one I will remember for a long time to come.  I plan on buying a hard copy for my classroom and encouraging students to read it, both as part of the research project and for choice reading.

Overall rating: 4/5 stars

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Bookish Memories

Top Ten Tuesday: Books We Resolve to Read in 2013


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish.

Jacqueline’s Top Ten Bookish Memories

  1. Meeting David Sedaris: my sister and I went to hear David read from his notebook of unpublished works a few years ago at a small theater in  Canton. Before the reading he sat at a little table in the lobby and signed books. Nobody really noticed him sitting there at first, so my sister and I jumped up to the table and chatted with him (in French!) for a few minutes. He signed my book, gave me a little piece of chocolate from his pocket (really, I’m not kidding!) and we went on our way. He taught my sister to swear the French way, and told me that he is glad I don’t go by the name Jackie. True story.
  2. I remember many, many visits to our local Holland library growing up where my mom let me take home entire stacks of books.
  3. Similarly, I remember going to the bookstore at the mall and my parents letting me buy any books I wanted (or, at least it seemed like it to me). I truly believe this is what fostered my love for books.
  4. In 5th grade we had to read a certain number of books each report card time. I can’t remember what it was, but I’m sure it wasn’t much. After you met your goal, the teacher let you choose something from his box of prizes. I remember reading furiously to make sure my total was higher than my friends, and getting to choose countless books and other prizes from the box. Such a smart man, that teacher, for capitalizing on our fifth grade competitive natures.
  5. Discovering Goodreads- what a happy day.
  6. Amazon Prime- makes it okay to order just one book. As if I need more reasons to order more books.
  7. I remember being little and crawling up on my mom’s lap in our old wooden rocking chair at night when she would read to me. I hope my daughter someday remembers us reading to her, too.
  8. Which brings me to #8- every time my daughters bring me books to read, and the true joy they get from being read to. Even the just-turned-one-year-old will bring me a book and climb into my lap to be read to. I truly hope we’re raising them to love books like I do.
  9. The first time I took my daughter to the library: she was so amazed that there were so many books in one place, and a bit overwhelmed at the idea that she had to pick just a few to take home. Even now, a year and many trips later, she has a really hard time choosing which ones to pull from the shelves.
  10. When my first project was funded through, since I meant I got to share more books with more students!

Jessica’s Top Ten Bookish Memories

  1.  Harry Potter.  Basically, anything about the books.  I remember I had not heard of the books until Goblet of Fire was just coming out.  I was in Disney World and saw all of the posters for Goblet and had no idea what it was.  I was looking at the books in a gift shop and a little boy told me that the books were so good and I had to read them.  I had my aunt pick me up Sorcerer’s Stone and after that it was love.  I remember falling in love with the world Rowling had created.  This lead to many laughs, tears, and two midnight release parties with my brother.  Harry Potter was a part of my life for TEN years!  You can’t beat that!
  2. My fourth grade teacher reading out loud to us.  Mrs. Gilliam introduced me to many books I never would have read on my own – Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Great Brain, and The Indian in the Cupboard.  We all loved read aloud time and begged for more every day.  I fell more in love with reading because of her.
  3. Teaching Of Mice and Men.  I love this book.  I never read it until I prepared to teach it during my third year of teaching.  I bawled hysterically at home.  I had no idea how I was going to get through the last two chapters when I read to my students.  Somehow I did, with a choking voice.  My students appreciated it though.  I have seen students wiping eyes when we read the end; two years ago, a girl yelled out “NO!” in the middle of class.  I love seeing how such a small book has such an impact on so many people.
  4. Going to the library as a child.  My parents were readers and made reading a big part of  our lives.  We went to the library all the time.  I always had books to read and I am so thankful for that.  I hope to share this passion with my own children one day in the same way my parents shared it with me.
  5. Reading by flashlight under the covers.  My big “rebellion” as a child was staying up past my bed time to read a book.  I used a flashlight and hid under my covers so I could as much reading in as possible.  I was a real wild child.  I think my parents knew, even tough I thought I was so slick, but they were happy to see me wanting to read.  Books were constant companions in my bed as I grew up.
  6. Reading Speak in college.  Speak was a required book for my literature methods class.  Since the moment I picked it up at the bookstore, I could tell there was something special about this book.  I wanted to be part of the group to present on it, even though it meant going first and being in a group with other students I did not know.  This book was life-changing.  It was my “gateway” book to YA Lit.  I had no idea books like this existed for teens; I never had any like it when I was a teen.  I was so glad I got to teach it my first year and love seeing how it captures readers year after year.
  7. Seeing David Levithan speak in Kalamazoo.  He did a public engagement at the Kalamazoo Public Library my senior year of college.  It was not long after Boy Meets Boy was published and just before Marley’s Ghost was published.  I was so moved by his message and the writing he read from his books.  People protested his speaking since he had written Boy Meets Boy and when asked about it, he answered so lovingly and honestly, I was very impressed.  He signed a copy of Boy Meets Boy for me and I still cherish it today.
  8. Reading Wonder out loud to my tenth graders.  I was terrified to read aloud, thinking my sophomores would find it babyish and boring.  However, they were engaged in Auggie’s story and always wanted to know more.  I loved seeing how they wanted more each day and how quickly they could bring another student up-to-speed about what we read the day before.  This is also the first time I completely lost it – sobbing, could not speak lost it – in front of my students.  (Thankfully, Jacqueline was there to take over for me!)  My students respected me for it and were very understanding to how the novel affected me.  It was a great moment.
  9. Finding other passionate readers.  Whether through Twitter, Nerdy Book Club, or my amazing co-workers, I love having so many outlets to discuss books and reading, especially YA Lit.  I appreciate having people I can share my passion with and who “get” it.  I am very lucky to be surrounded by so many readers.
  10. When a student tells me how much he or she loves a book.  Whether it is the fifth book she has read that trimester or the first book he admits to reading since fifth grade, I love when I see a student click with a book.  I see it all over their face when they talk about it and tell me and their classmates about it.  There is nothing more powerful than seeing the love come from a teen in my classroom.

Time for Ten Bookish Goals for 2013

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s topic is our top ten bookish goals for 2013.

Because it’s always good to have goals, right?

Jacqueline’s goals:

  1. In 2013 I vow to write better reviews of the books that I read. Like, reviews that actually tell a person something and may help them decide to read (or not to read) that particular book. Really. I will.
  2. I will perform more booktalks for our kids. Along with that, I will actually put more than 2 seconds of thought into the booktalks before giving them, in hopes of actually enticing more kids to read said books.
  3. In order to do both #1 and #2 more effectively, I will take notes as I read. But let’s be real here, these notes will just be a post-it on the back of the book where I at least track the names of the characters.
  4. To hopefully attract more of my male students (who are tough to win over, it seems) I am going to attempt to read more books that appeal to boys. Now I just need some boys who read to help put me on that path.
  5. This year I would really like to become more involved in, and aware of, the book-world in general. I need to get that Tweety thing, read more reading blogs, and go meet some authors somewhere. If you can help, let me know!
  6. I am giving myself a pass this year. A pass to be more in control of my own reading. On reading books just because I think I should, on continuing books that are terrible, and on agreeing with others that a book was good when I didn’t think it was. Not going to happen in 2013.
  7. I have 2 daughters- a 3 year old and a 1 year old. While they both already love books (well, one likes to “read” them, the other thinks they taste good), I feel like I could really spend more time reading TO them and less time modeling reading myself. I’ve made a point to make sure they see me reading all the time, but it’s time to actually sit with them both and read a bit more.
  8. This is the year when I will finally tackle a few of those “classics” that I should have read (and sometimes pretend I have read) but never did. I know this seems to run counter-intuitive to goal #6, but that’s the way it goes I guess.
  9. To off-set #8, I am going to let myself read at least one book this year that I have already loved and adored. The Fountainhead, probably, and also The Great Gatsby in preparation for the movie. Because that movie? It. Looks. Awesome.
  10. My last goal is going to be the hardest to actually achieve, I think. I’ve already mentioned my love for audiobooks, but this is the time to take it to the next level. I load books on my ipod, plug it into my car stereo, and listen. But, I never take the darn thing out of the car. Ever. I know that ipods are transportable and that I really could be listening while doing a plethora of other things, and it’s time to just do that already. Because I was wickedly jealous of the man in Meijer the other night listening to his ipod while selecting his eggs. Genius, really.


1. I will conference with my students more about their reading.  I swear to do this all the time.  I think because I have not done it much, I don’t have the confidence.  It is a mix of not wanting to disrupt my students and not knowing what to say.  I have been reading Book Love by Penny Kittle and she has some great suggestions.  I will follow them this year.

2. I will read more of the “Classics.”  Sometimes, people are surprised about books I have not read when I am an English teacher.  I know it is giving into the stereotype, but I know there are amazing titles out there I have missed in my education.  I plan on making that up.

3. I will expand outside of YA this year.  As much as I love Young Adult Literature (I tell my students how lucky they are because of all the amazing titles they have at their disposal) and know there’s value in that so I can share the titles with students, I have many books for adults on my bookshelf and on my Nook that have been looked over for years in some cases.  I will read more of those along with my YA.

4. To go along with that, I am going to address one of my reading gaps – nonfiction.  I went through a memoir phrase a few years ago, but I have not done much informational reading.  I know I have students who enjoy these types of books and I am at a lost for titles to share with them.  Plus, the information I gain from them can help me in teaching and in life.

5. I will start sharing book trailers with my students.  I love doing book talks, but there is a whole wealth of book talking  available with book trailers to share with students.  And they are very visually appealing, which will draw in many students.

6. I will get back into reading aloud to my students.  Last year, Jacqueline and I read Wonder by RJ Palacio out loud to our tenth graders.  Many of them loved it.  I even lost it in front of one class and Jacqueline had to take over.  I started reading this year and then it fell away because I got overwhelmed about time.  However, I know the value of students being read to and will continue this again.

7. This is more writing, but I want to get back into writing again.  Being a published author is a dream I have had since I learned how to write.  However, I always give up on my writing.  I want to dedicate time to my writing again and find joy in sharing stories.

8. I will read more picture books.  I have seen the power picture books have in my own classroom.  I am still not as familiar with picture books as I would like to be in order to know newer texts to share with students.  I want to read more and bring more into my classroom.

9. I will give students more opportunities to talk about books.  I will give them the opportunities to share books in class and talk about what they are reading with each other.  As much as Jacqueline and I can talk about what we have read, a peer telling how much he or she enjoyed a book carries much more weight than anything we could say.

10.  I will continue to be an advocate for choice reading in English classrooms.  Because I am lucky to be surrounded by many like-thinking people, I forget how some educators are not sure about dedicating time to reading in class and giving students so much choice.  I was one of them a few years ago.  I could not imagine giving time in class for silent reading; now we do it almost every day.  I will use this blog and my social networks to help promote the importance of choice and getting books in students’ hands.

What are your goals this year?