Tag Archives: YA Books

Good Game Reads: 8 YA Books for MetaGames & Gamers

Video games are their own literary genre driven by narrative and story. As my colleague and friend Katie Egan Cunningham states, “Stories surround us, support us, and sustain us.” Whether you are gamer in search of a good story or books to hook your gamer -students, here are 8 young adult books worth reading that tap into gaming, puzzles, ciphers, quests, and LARPs.

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It’s All Fun and Games by Dave Barrett (Nerdist, 2016) is about two friends who get caught in a LARP (Live Action Role Play) gone wrong. Not long after the adventure begins, the friends find themselves transported from Earth to a world filled with both magic and danger. Suddenly, what Alison expected to be a weekend being geeky turns into a fight for survival against brigands, kobolds, and other nasty characters as the group tries to finish their mission or at least get back home.

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In Click Here to Start by Denis Markell (Delacorte Press, 2016) twelve-year-old Ted Gerson has spent most of his summer playing video games. So when his great-uncle dies and bequeaths him the all so-called treasure in his overstuffed junk shop of an apartment, Ted explores it like it’s another level to beat. And to his shock, he finds that eccentric Great-Uncle Ted actually has set the place up like a real-life escape-the-room game.

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Random House, 2012) has popped up on many high school summer reading lists and my students would tell you this book does not disappoint. Set in the year 2044, where reality is an ugly place, teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s in the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines–puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win–and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Steven Spielberg is directing a film version of this book that has a release date of March 2018.

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Laura Ruby’s book new series York: Book One the Shadow Cipher (Walden Pond Press, 2017) takes readers on an exciting treasure hunt through a city’s past to save the future. The protagonists, two twin siblings and their neighbor journey around New York and into the city’s past, both real and fantastical, as they encounter a henchman, delve into the bowels of the Old York Cipherist Society (a group of either learned scholars or paranoid cranks), and try to decide whom they can trust. Along the way, there’s action and peril, including a scene involving a giant mechanical insect that eats dirt and sometimes people; but at key junctures, it’s each child’s individual talents that lead him or her to solve a particular element of the puzzle.

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Looking for more adventure and games? Caraval by Stephanie Garber (Flatiron Books, 2017) mentions the game of life and love throughout this story about a dark carnival organized by the notorious Legend. Protagonist Scarlet and her sister sneak away from their father and their home to attend and play at the Caraval. Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find her sister Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

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The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold by Traci Chee (Penguin Random House, 2016), my FAVORITE book this year, is exploding with puzzles and adventure. After Sefia’s father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible. This November the next installment is out, The Speaker: Book Two of Sea of Ink and Gold — I cannot wait!!

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Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown (First Second Books, 2016) is a graphic novel that explores the history of Tetris and unravels the complex history to dive into the role games play in art, culture, and commerce.

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Another graphic novel, Level Up (First Second Books,2016) by Gene Luen Yang presents a coming of age story of the dilemma of personal goals verses parental approval. More specifically, video games vs. medical school!

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The Book That Drives the Story and the Game

HELLO

IF YOU’RE READING THIS, THEN MAYBE YOU KNOW

YOU OUGHT TO READ EVERYTHING, AND MAYBE

YOU KNOW YOU OUGHT TO READ DEEPLY. BECAUSE THERE’S

WITCHERY IN THESE WORDS AND

SPELLWORK IN THE SPINE

AND ONCE YOU KNOW TO LOOK FOR SIGNALS IN THE SMOKE,

FOR SECRETS IN THE SEA, THEN YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT IT IS

TO READ. THIS IS A BOOK. YOU ARE THE READER. LOOK CLOSER,

THERE’S MAGIC HERE.

 

So begins Traci Chee’s amazing story of pirates, magic, and the power of a book in The Reader: Book One of Sea of Ink and Gold.

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This week my students and I will be discussing The Reader with author, Traci Chee for our upcoming monthly Twitter Book Club. There are so many great elements to the story that I had to reread the book again. Additionally, Traci Chee has embedded ten puzzles, ciphers, and clues throughout the story and I was on a hunt to uncover them all – in my second read I have identified 9 of the 10.

The Reader is filled with strong female characters throughout and weaves between three different story lines. Sefia, the protagonist’s story and quest is primary. Captain Reed’s adventures written in The Book Sefia reads and is marked in a different layout embedded throughout Sefia story. The third story is of Sefia’s parents which run parallel with Sefia’s chapters (until you realize who Lon and the Assassin really are in Chapter 29). Chee has crafted a compelling story that plays on words and begs her readers to ask questions about the power of words and books to control facts, truth, and history.

The main protagonists is 16 year old Sefia who has lost both her mother and father. As the readers, we are told and reminded that her parents were brutally murdered. Sefia is cared for by a family friend, Nin, until Nin is kidnapped one day by a “hooded woman” with a “sick stench of metal.” Sefia is left to fend for herself and seek revenge and resolution. In this world the people cannot read. “They had never developed alphabets or rules for spelling, never set their histories down in stone.” Stories and histories are passed around orally so they are not forgotten. Except a secret society of people trained to read and write from a “mysterious object called a book.” Sefia’s parents had the book hidden and now it is in Sefia’s hands as she uses it to find answers and understand her past.

So the puzzles embedded throughout The Reader.  .  . Some are there masterfully to reinforce ideas in the story like the fingerprints smudged throughout the book from Sefia’s paper cuts that bloodied her fingers reading and rereading the book in her hands. Another character, Tanin, carries around a crinkled, burned, and weathered paper that she reads and rereads trying to understand like a map that is presented on pages 416 -417 to help uncover just what really happened when Sefia is with Tanin and Rajar. If you look closely at burned page on page 417 Sefia’s parent’s names have been rubbed out and erased. Page 25 there are details blacked out about Sefia’s father that beg the question whether her parents are really dead. On page 211 there are words faded out to again asking the question, “What information is being held from us, the readers?” Again on page 307 specific words are bolded and enlarged when Sefia is reading about her father’s death in the book. “There was – no face left.” This hints that Sefia’s father can be alive and the body Sefia saw was planted as a distractor for his enemies. Did you catch the hidden message in the quote at the beginning of this blog post – LOOK CLOSER.

At the bottom of the page numbers there are words floating throughout. It is a poem. Oh, Traci Chee you are a clever author . . .

This is a book and a book is a world and words are the seeds in which meanings are curled pages of oceans and margins on land are civilizations you hold in the palm of your hand. But look at your world and your life seems to shrink to cities of paper and seas made of ink. Do you  know who you are or have you been mislead? Are you the reader or are you the read?

Unpacking the Book As a Theme for Gamification

In Explore Like  Pirate: Gamification and Game Inspired Course Design (2015), Michael Matera suggests that successful gamification needs a story with a theme, setting, and characters to drive the game and motivate the players into action. The Reader is my inspiration and guide for my ELA classroom. In a world where students who love reading is few and far between, and paper or tangible books might been a thing of the past, my students and players will be the chosen to uncover the mysteries and powers of the book. The goal is for students to LOOK CLOSER at their world and the information that we are bombarded with visually and in print. In books, and digitally. What is true? Do books contain magic? What can we learn from the adventures described in books and the histories that have been recorded? Can we use our knowledge and understanding to see that “everything is huge and connected. . . But the book[s] are the key, and if [we] can figure out how to use it, [we’d] be able to open the door, uncover the magic that lay, ripping and shifting unseen currents, beyond the world [we’d] experience” (Chee, 41).

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For Evan: Speak Up, Speak Out, Know the Signs to Prevent Teenage Suicide

Disclaimer –  This article addresses the topic of teen suicide and includes some sensitive information.

Evan Hyman was the class president of his high school. He was a solid student with lots of friends. He started an initiative in elementary school called “Cupcakes for a Cause” to raise awareness and money for hospice care after his father had passed away from brain cancer. He liked to go hiking and was active in his Temple Youth Group.

But on January 31, 2016, Evan committed suicide. He left no note and no signs that he was putting this thought into action.

Over 1,000 people attended his funeral in shock, despair, awe, grief, that this sixteen year old took his own life.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined as reported by the Jason Foundation, a nonprofit organization for the awareness and prevention of youth suicide. The organization also reports that four of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.

But what about the one who shows no clear warning signs? The one who was seemingly happy, gregarious, friendly, caring, family oriented and then hanged himself in his bedroom.

I recently read All the Bright Places, a young adult novel by Jennifer Niven (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015) about two teens who develop a friendship over suicidal thoughts. Both characters are battling inner demons and throughout the story the warning signs were like bread crumbs dropped along the pages insinuating what is to come. Yet, in the book there were no adults, parents, siblings, friends, teachers who were keen enough to help these two teens. The book ends tragically.

In a twitter book chat with the author I asked Ms. Niven why she did not have anyone help these two teens when it was clear that they were struggling with suicidal thoughts from the beginning of the novel. Her response to me was she receives hundreds of tweets and letters from teenagers telling her that they do not have an adult who cares or they can turn to. I was shocked by her response. I thought how can that be possible.

And two weeks later the news that Evan committed suicide rocked my community. His mom found him. The fire department had to come to the house and remove the body. I thought it was an accident. I told everyone there had to be a sign. Or it was a mistake. Why would this seemingly smart, popular, and all around good kid do something like this? How could no one not notice anything. His friends were as dumbfounded as I was, maybe even more so compounded by heartbreak and mourning.

The Youth Suicide Prevention Program lists the following signs that may indicate that someone is thinking of suicide:

  • Talking or joking about suicide
  • Current talk of suicide or making a plan
  • Strong wish to die or a preoccupation with or romanticizing death
  • Writing stories or poems about death, dying, or suicide
  • Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
  • Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Signs of depression, such as moodiness, hopelessness, withdrawal
  • Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
  • Hinting at not being around in the future or saying good-bye
  • Seeking out pills, firearms, or other ways to kill themselves

So, if a friend or child or sibling or student mentions suicide or shows one (even many) of the warning signs take it seriously. Get help immediately. Do not leave the person alone.  At the same time, show the person you care by sharing your concerns and listening carefully to their feelings.

Maybe Evan’s suicide could have been prevented. Maybe there were signs that people missed or he hid his pain. We will never know. What we do know is the hole that he has left in so many by ending his life so unexpectedly is deep. Evan’s death has made me more aware and vocal about this “silent epidemic.”

For more information how to talk to a person with has suicidal thoughts and shows signs of depression and despair check out the resources below:

Helpguide.org — This non profit organization offers extensive information about ways to talk to a person about suicide or suicidal person as well additional preventative tips

The Jason Foundation — This organization is dedicated to the prevention of youth suicide through educational programs, an app, and informative information on its website.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1 (800) 273-8255

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call this number immediately.

A few Young Adult Novels That Address Suicide:

411mjmptsel-_sy344_bo1204203200_13 Reasons by by Jay Asher

41r-skjj61lLooking for Alaska by John Green

18460392All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

the-pact-06-lgThe Pact by Jodi Picoult
18075234Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman

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Talking Race & Social Injustice with All American Boys author Jason Reynolds

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to be delayed at the airport with Jason Reynolds as we waited to board our flight to St. Louis for ILA. I guess it was the fact that I was reading Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman to pass the time and he asked me what I thought of the book (I will leave my response to that question for another post). We began talking about all different writers and books. He offered me a glimpse into his writing life, his writing mentors, and I was immediately in awe. Jason Reynolds is an award winning YA author who writes honestly and authentically about urban teens today. He was mentored by the late, great Walter Dean Meyers and spins new books out every six weeks — he already has ten books in line to be published with his publisher.  I am amazed, inspired, and motivated.

Jason Reynold’s most recent book, All American Boys (2015) co written with YA author, Brendan Kiely, is a must read. The story is told from two perspectives: Rashad (African American) and Quinn (White). When Rashad is mistaken for a shoplifter, a white police officer get physically aggressive and Rashad lands in the hospital with multiple injuries. But Quinn witnessed the police brutality and he must decide whether to speak up about what he saw or stay silent.

This book is so important today as we all turn on the news and are inundated with police violence, brutality, and racial stereotyping. As one reviewer on GoodReads wrote, “This is a book to start conversations, in our classrooms and with each other. It’s a book to make you take a step back and look at bias in your own life. The power in this book lies in the stripped down simplicity-two boys, two views, one incident, which, through the honesty and realness of the characters who are dealing with complex issues of race, community, perceptions, stereotypes, and assumptions, is able to address a timely issue in a way teens will be able to relate to without feeling lectured at.”

When I read the book I knew I had something powerful, timely, and important in my hands that I needed to share with other teachers and students. This was the first book that I my students read for our Twitter Book Chat. Last night my students and I had the opportunity to talk about the book and tweet with author, Jason Reynolds. This is a dream opportunity for any teacher, to have her students talking about a book with the author in critical and reflective ways. I am so grateful to Jason for taking time to speak with my students.

Here are the discussion questions used for our All American Boys Twitter Book Chat:

Q1: We frequently see videos and news broadcasts about black people in America being intimidated, beaten, shot, and murdered by cops, one after the other after the other. How does All American Boys inform your knowledge of this? 

Q2: What surprised you and shocked you in the text? 

Q3:In the text, the boy’s basketball coach tells the team to “leave it at the door” — Rashid’s beating and hospitalization. Do schools and teachers have a responsibility to addressing these incident? Why or why not?

Q4: Is what happened to Rashad, Quinn’s problem? Should he notify the police about what he saw outside the market? Is Quinn racist?

Q5: What makes Rashid and Quinn genuine characters? What make you believe their stories, their choices, their reactions? 

Q6: How has reading this book made you more empathetic, a more compassionate human being?

Q7: What will you do differently after having read this book? How does it influence your responsibility as an Upstander? 

Q8: What does this book communicate about non violence, civil rights, and passive resistance?

Q9: Who’s story do you want to know more about? Should readers to know more about Paul’s story?

Q10: What questions do you have for the authors? 

Jason Reynolds @ILA15

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Reflections & Takeaways From #ILA15

This past weekend I attended the International Literacy Association’s Annual Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. The conference offered hundreds of workshops led by many greats within the literacy community from The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Brooks, the Writing Thief’s Ruth CulhamHarvey Daniels, Kelly Gallagher, and Lucy Caulkins (those mentioned are only a fraction of the many the amazing authors and educators who presented. In addition, there were more than a hundred young adult authors speaking and signing books. My three days at the conference were filled with informative workshops, book signings, and connecting with my Professional Learning Network. Throughout the conference, the following ten ideas were mentioned repetitively:

1. We need more diverse texts. It is so important that the books we share with our students reflect a wide range of experiences. In addition, there should be a range of ethnicities, race, socio economic classes, and sexual orientations. Teachers cannot only offer the classics as reading material in their classroom. There are so many amazingly diverse YA authors who are telling honest stories our students need to have access to. These authors include Jason Reynolds, Kekla Magoon, Kwame Alexander, and poet Janet Wong to name a few. Diversity is also about offering different formats and genres of texts.

2. There is a lot of research on reading. Research shapes our teaching and offers beneficial information about our students from reading abilities to self perceptions about oneself as a reader and writer. Teachers need to remember that data is more than just numbers and test scores. Keeping records helps to inform our practice, and helps teachers to reflect on how we can do better to meet the needs of our students.

3. Surround yourself and your students with great books. I call this book love. Share with your students your own reading life and have students write their reading autobiography. Allow students to choose their own reading material and read aloud great books to introduce your students to different genres, authors, and texts. #BookLove is not going to happen if everyone is reading the same book. Classroom libraries should contain more than 500 books.

4. Reading Writing Workshop is back in style. Maybe it never left your district, but it left mine and now it is back. Students need time to read and write in class everyday and the reading writing workshop model helps students cultivate their reading and writing life. Teaching in small bursts (mini-lessons) is much more effective than 40 minute power point lectures.

5. Get your struggling readers invested. We all have angry readers, disenchanted readers, quiet readers, attention readers, picky readers, and competitive readers. Teachers need to motivate, engage, and build confidence and connections with these types of readers to help raise confidence in all our readers. Teacher and Nerdy Book Club writer, Justin Stygles, presented a great session about transforming the struggling readers in our classrooms. He spoke about teachers being reading mentors rather than reading dictators. He mentioned that time and building relationships is key when working with struggling readers.

6. Literacy is EVERY teacher’s responsibility. Yes, I am talking to all the math, science, and social studies teachers out there. One cannot leave all the responsibility of teaching students to read in the English Language Arts teacher’s hands. All content area teachers are responsible for helping their students be literate and succeed. Integrating literacy in the content areas can include reading aloud a text with content connections to having students practice specific reading and writing skills. The key is to work together.

7. Collaboration is key.The old adage says, “It takes a village.” Within your school, district, and community, educating young people is not an isolated task. With social media teachers can collaborate in many ways beyond their classroom walls. Get involved in a Mystery Skype, global collaborative project, or the Global Read Aloud.

8. There need to be more word work. Yes, I am talking about vocabulary. And no, a word wall is not enough to help students learn words or an effective vocabulary strategy. Neither is giving students a list of words and having them define and write sentences for each of the words. Teaching students roots, prefixes, and suffixes helps students to decode words and define the word in context. Let’s give it a try, do you know what arachibutyrophobia* means? Break it down and see if you can figure it out without using Google.

9. Teachers are writers too. If you are going to teach writing and expect your students to be writing like “real” writers, than you also need to step up to the plate. So, start a blog, write a story, poem, or article and share your work with others. Model the  reading and writing life you want from your students.

10. Connect with others, you are not alone. The amazing thing about social media (Twitter especially) is that you can connect with so many amazing educators around the world on any digital device. Annual conferences like ISTE, NCTE, and ILA just help to bring us all together under the same roof from time to time. It is so important for all teachers to have and cultivate a professional learning network (PLN). A PLN helps build connections, inspires, is collaborative, and contributes to one’s learning and professional development. Great teachers don’t just show up, they share and participate and are always learning.

*Arachibutyropobia – the fear of peanut butter getting stuck to the roof of your mouth.

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Storytelling, Discussion, & Analysis: Twitter As a Classroom Tool for Middle School Students

This past week ISTE’s Literacy Special Interest Journal published its third issue. I contributed an article on using twitter for book chats with my eighth grade students. I have cut and pasted the article below to share. To check out the entire journal with lots of great articles that address different technologies and literacy I have pasted a link at the bottom of this post.

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In 140 characters or less, meaningful conversations can occur. In my four years of using Twitter as a personal professional development tool, I have learned from amazing people on Twitter and collaborated with many educators around the world in order to improve my teaching and strengthen my students’ learning. As result of my experience in utilizing this social media tool for professional growth and learning, I knew that there was an opportunity for me to share this technology with my students to empower them as readers, writers, and global citizens.

Twitter is a powerful online social media tool that allows people to engaged in conversations and discuss topics that are relevant to their lives. Ninety eight percent of my students are already using social media and have personal computers, tablets, and or mobile devices. Twitter was a technology tool that some were using socially, in addition to Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. As their teacher, and a person who embraces technology in her classroom, I wanted to show my students how we can utilize Twitter as an educational tool for learning and also promote positive digital citizenship.

It all began when I read a blog post on The Nerdy Book Club blog by young adult author, James Preller in November 2013 on the power of story and how “stories are essential to our lives.”  I was so moved by the blog post, I immediately bought his book Bystander, a fictional story about bullying at a middle school in Long Island.  As a middle school teacher, this topic is pertinent to my teaching and my quest to promote empathy within school culture. As I devoured the book, I realized that I wanted all my students to read Bystander and the power of its story as it relates to our school and culture where bullying is a daily occurrence.  Hence, I assigned Bystander as a required reading for my eighth grade English students for their outside reading requirement.  In addition to reading the book, I wanted to engage my students in authentic discussions about the book and share their responses, connections, and questions about the book.  A huge proponent of Twitter as a professional development tool, I required my students to participate in four Twitter book chats after school hours to address the complex characters and issues raised in the book. Since our lives are so packed with activities, homework and family time, I knew designating a time to a Twitter-based conversation about the book would gain more participants in the outside reading assignment.

My eighth grade students are required to read one outside reading book each quarter and complete an assessment project on the book. My students who are interested in taking Honors classes in High School are required to read two outside reading books each quarter and complete two projects. I offer students a list of recommended titles the beginning of each quarter based on genre (non fiction, graphic novels, memoirs, etc.) or theme (World War II and social injustice texts to align with Social Studies) for students to choose an outside reading book.  Although, bullying is a topic that students are bombarded with in school with special assemblies and Health classes, it was never a topic in our English class readings and discussions. I was so moved by James Preller’s Bystander  and bothered by the covert bullying throughout the school I might see or hear about that I decided that it would be an all grade read for my students. There were a few complaints and groans when I introduced the book as a book about bullying in a middle school. For the most part, the majority of my students enjoyed the book and the Twitter book chat discussions even more.

When I introduced the assignment to my classes I included a reading schedule with set dates for the Twitter chats meetings and a Twitter Permission Letter/ Code of Conduct to be shared with their parents and guardians,  to be signed and returned to me. I organized the Twitter book chats weekly for forty five minutes  for five consecutive weeks to discuss the text, share our thoughts, make connections, and ask questions. I really wanted students to talk with one another about the text, rather than just answer my questions I posted about the book.  The Twitter permission letter to families addressed my intentions and objectives in utilizing Twitter for this assignment. To confirm that parents received and read the letter, I required parents and guardians and my students to sign the letter and return it  to me prior to the first Twitter book chat. Out of ninety-three students, I had over sixty students participating in the Twitter book chats.

The week before our first Twitter book chat I held a meeting after school to introduce Twitter to the students and offer a “how-to” demonstration in setting up a Twitter account and using Twitter. Each student was given a cheat sheet that covered the Dos and Don’ts of Tweeting and explained an anatomy of a Tweet. I recommended students who already had a Twitter account to make a new account specifically for our class project so that I do not have access to their pictures from the weekend parties and other social media sharing they do with their friends. I was clear in reminding students that we were using Twitter for educational purposes and that my own account is for that, I do not share pictures of my family and food or discuss personal matters online.  For me, Twitter is strictly professional and used in a positive manner.

Students used a hashtag to follow the Twitter conversation and be included in the book chat. Google defines a hashtag as “a word or phrase preceded by a hash or pound sign (#) and used to identify messages on a specific topic.” Our hashtag was #RMSBystander and with each new book and Twitter chat we included a hashtag that included the book title and “RMS,” the initials of our middle school.  Every time a student tweeted, he or she included the hashtag in their tweet.

Everyone had a voice on Twitter and no one was able to hide during the discussions. During the Twitter book discussions students shared their own stories, made connections, and critically addressed the issue of bullying in our school and society at large.  I was impressed by their honesty and keen awareness.  I did start off the Twitter chat by asking questions for students to respond to throughout the Twitter chat but that always lead to deeper conversations and comments posted by my students responding to one another. The students weren’t just answering the questions that I posed during the Twitter book chat but were also talking with each other in an online environment, supporting and responding to each other’s ideas. I noticed that students who might not talk to each other in class, face to face, were responding to each other online and offering constructive discussions piggy-backing on each other’s ideas. Students learned that a retweet was like a high five, pointing out an insightful comment and students looked forward to me retweeting their comments or looked for one another to retweet in agreement or support. Positive communication was modeled throughout the Twitter discussions.

Student conversations on Twitter weaved in and out of the text with comments and side conversations about our own school. Students admitted that bullying is a huge problem in many schools across across the United States, and our own school is not immune. Social media sometimes becomes a means in which bullying takes place.  But, by facilitating the Twitter chats, I wanted to promote Twitter as a social media tool in a responsible and educational manner.  I was impressed by my students honesty about bullying in our school and shared the archived chat with my school principal and school social worker to highlight the conversations that one teacher and a her students were having about bullying and one book about bullying. My students were excited about the Twitter book discussions and asked for more book discussions online. As one of my students replied at the end of the chat, “This chat allowed me to think of the reading in new ways.”

After the series of Twitter Chats on Bystander, our second Twitter book chat was with the book The Wave by Todd Strasser. Written in 1981, The Wave is based on a true incident that occurred in a high school history class in Palo Alto, California, in 1969. A high school teacher introduces a new “system” into his classroom to promote learning and success and  illustrates how propaganda and peer pressure help Nazism rise in Germany in the 1930s. Students were studying World War II in their Social Studies class and Strasser’s text helps to extend the conversations about injustice and history outside of the classroom. Currently, my students are reading and tweeting about I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Reader’s Edition) by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick. With each of the books read and discussed students make connections and judgements across texts, drawing conclusions, and sharing big ideas that surface from reading and conversing about the text. In our Twitter chats the students are engaged and responding to one another. The Twitter book chats help students monitor comprehension, merge their thinking with new ideas, react to, respond to, and often question the information.

Twitter is one digital media tool that can be used effectively for discussing stories and the powerful impact they have on our lives. Twitter also allows space for students to critically discuss topics that are relevant to their lives and share stories,  images, and other links to meaningful texts that address the same topics.  Twitter helps extend classroom discussions outside the classroom and for students to deepen their thinking through tweeting about reading. Through my experiences using Twitter in the classroom, I have been able to capture the “richness” of conversations and the “complexity of experiences” when sharing stories.

 

Twitter Resources for Teachers

Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything Twitter

A Teacher’s Guide to Twitter (Edudemic)

50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom via TeachHUB

EDUHACKER’s Teaching with Twitter

To read through the entire ISTE Literacy Special Interest Journal (3rd Issue):

http://literacyspecialinterest.blogspot.com/2015/03/literacyspecialinterest-issue.html

I will be leading a webinar on Twitter in the K12 classroom for ISTE on 3/26 at 4 PM PT.  The webinar is free for ISTE members. To register for the webinar click here.

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Mean Kids: Stereotype or Truth in YA Literature?

The following blog post stems from a Twitter conversation that ensued between teacher and blogger Brian Wyzlic, best selling author Lauren DeStefano, and myself.

Another sidebar, my fourth grader has a battle of the books right now and is required to read eighty books in the next three months so every night we read aloud to each other one of the required books (we have read 16 so far). In January we finished reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio and this week we read Cynthia Lord’s Rules. Both books are about young people with disabilities.  Also, in both books there are situations where young people are mean to these characters blatantly and overtly. In one scene in Rules a neighborhood boy teases and taunts the main character’s brother (who is autistic). My son stopped reading aloud and asked, “Why is this kid so mean to him?” And for the next ten minutes I proceeded to explain that there are mean people in this world and I can’t really explain what makes someone mean.

Thus, these two events within 24 hours of each other had me thinking about all the meanness that is in young adult literature and my own struggles to promote a culture of caring in my middle school classroom as well as instill empathy and caring among my own two children.

Here is a list of books about mean kids that can be used as teaching tools and more:

Elementary School Age Books

Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

This picture book is a play on words with pictures as important as the words.

Bully by Patricia Palacco

Addresses cyberbullying and how bullying happens outside of school.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (Upper elementary)

A poignet tale about a little girl who is teased for wears the same dress to school everyday.

The Juice Box Bully by Bob Sornson and Maria Dismondy

Encourages kids to stand up for others.

Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean by Jane Lynch, Lara Embry, & A.E. Mikesell

Marlene is a bully on the playground until someone decides to stand up to her.

My Secret Bully by Trudy Ludwig

Monica and Katie have been friends since they were little but now Katie embarrasses and excludes Monica. Why would a friend do that?

One by Kathryn Otoshi

An amazing author, Otoshi plays on numbers to show that everyone counts.

Recess Queen by Alexis O’neill and Laura Huliska-Beith

Kids are afraid of Mary Jean because she rules the playground but one person turns that around.

You’re Mean Lily Jean! by Frieda Wishinsky

A new girl moves next door. When they play together she makes demands and is bossy. Carly comes up with a plan the next time the girls play together.

Zero by Kathryn Otoshi

Building self confidence an encouraging others to celebrate their strengths and differences.

Middle School & High School Age Books

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

This is a favorite among my students that addresses the sometimes cruel behavior among adolescents.

Bystander by James Preller

This was a moving book that I required all my 8th graders to read last year because it addresses all perspectives of bullying and how being a bully or bystander is not static.

Cornered: 14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance by Rhoda Belleza

An anthology from all different young adult authors addressing all different types of bullying.

Cracked by K.M. Walton

Told from the perspectives of the bully and the victim who lands in a psych ward after attempting to take his own life.

Danny’s Mom by Elaine Wolf

A guidance counselor comes back to school after her teenage son is killed in a car crash and now back to work the injustices in the high school she is in is magnified.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

I am told that A.S. King is one of the best YA writers of our time. Lucky Linderman is a target of bullying and escapes in his dreams to a place where he is a hero.

Jerk California by Jonathan Friesen

Sam has Tourettes Syndrome, or T.S. and struggles to be accepted by his peers and step father. Sam goes on a quest to find about his father and more about himself.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Catherine’s brother is autistic and her best friend is in California all summer. A new girl moves next door but will she be understanding of Catherine’s brother and could they be friends?

StarGirl by Jerry Spinelli

One of my all time favorite YA books about being who you are and not following the crowd.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

August was born with a facial difference and homeschooled up until now. Starting 5th grade at a new school he just wants everyone to treat him like an ordinary kid.

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Young Adult Literature Gluttony: Summer Vacation Week 1

Always in search of a great book to share with my students, I went binge reading this week. The books I read were jaw dropping, powerful voices, and rich in beautiful language.

Doll Bones

Holly Black’s Doll Bones was a Newbery Honor Book this year about three friends who go on a journey to find the answers to a the ghost possessed doll they call “Queen.” I would recommend this book to all middle school students because it touches on the question when should one stop playing with his/her toys from childhood? Do we have to stop playing make believe games we played as little children? Main character, Zach struggles with parental expectations and when to abandon the imaginary games he plays with friends, Alice and Poppy. The illustrations dispersed throughout the book emphasize the struggle to give up childish things to meet grown up expectations. All three friends are driven to go on this quest and along the way of finding answers about the ghost of a small child, the doll, and  answers about themselves.We Were Liars

 

We Were Liars by e. lockhart is one book that I had to read in one sitting to figure out what actually happened the summer a fire wrecked Cadence’s grandparent’s house on Beechwood Island. Beechwood Island is a private island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard that her grandfather made into a compound for the Sinclair family. A wealthy family from Boston, Massachusetts, spent every summer on the island. As the Sinclair daughters grew up, got married, and had families of their own, houses were added to the Island and now Cadence and her mother look forward every summer to joining her aunts, cousins, and grandfather on the island for summer fun. Although after summer fourteen, something happened and Cadence, our narrator is trying to piece together what really happened, the fire, and when the family started to unravel. The narrator’s voice is raw, curt, and draws the reader’s sympathy. By the end of the book you are trying to figure out what is the truth since the title suggests someone might not be telling the truth.

The Truth About Alice

Liars, bullying, bystanders, rumors, and cruelty among young people make up Jennifer Mathieu’s novel, The Truth About Alice. Author and English teacher, Mathieu, makes references to The Scarlet Letter, The Outsiders, and Anne Frank’s Diary throughout the novel told from multiple points of view. The story is about what everyone thinks happened at Elaine O’Dea’s party between football star Brandon Fitzsimmons and Alice Franklin. The rumors spread on social media and then a few days later when Brendan is killed in a car crash, the rumors take on a life of their own breathing hate in this small town in Texas. Think Friday Night Lights and Sharon Draper’s Tears of  a Tiger.  Few people try to seek the truth, there are no upstanders, and nobody will be the same after all the events that take place.

The Opposite of Loneliness

The Opposite of Loneliness is a compilation of essays and stories from Marina Keegan, a 2012 graduate from Yale University who died in a car crash a few days after her graduation. An aspiring writer with a job at The New Yorker to begin after graduation never came to fruition with her untimely and tragic death. Her parents compiled her writing, some which appeared in the Yale Daily News, into this collection. I am drawn more to the nonfiction essays, but her fiction writing is just as beautiful and honest. Keegan’s voice is confident, inspiring, and sensitive. I found it interesting that the first piece of fiction is about a young college student who’s boyfriend dies suddenly. In the first essay she declares, ” What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over . . . We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.” Marina’s words offer young people that the world is full of possibility and choice is another opportunity.

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The One and Only Ivan: YA Book Review

Back when I was attending Syracuse University as an undergraduate, an international circus visited the city.  My husband (then boyfriend) and I decided to go see the circus performance.  Right before intermission, a bear came out riding a bicycle.  I was so upset seeing this animal dressed up and made to ride a bicycle with a trainer holding a stick behind the bear, I made us leave during the intermission promising never to see a circus with animal acts again.  I don’t consider myself a big animal rights activist but I was bothered by animals performing for human entertainment.

Fast forward to this past weekend.  At the library Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan (2012) was sitting on the book shelf ready to be checked out with the gold Newbery Medal glistening on the cover and I was inclined to take the book home.  I didn’t even read the inside book jacket. Yet, as soon as I started reading I couldn’t put the book down until I got to the end.  The book is an inspiring and thought provoking story that I will use in my classroom this year.

Ivan

The One and Only Ivan is told from the perspective of a thirty year old silverback gorilla who lives at the Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.  Ivan and his sister were taken as baby gorillas from their parents in the African Congo and then sold to the mall owner.  Unfortunately, Ivan’s sister did not survive the journey. Mack, the mall’s owner, raised Ivan as if he were a human infant for the first three years before Ivan became too big.  For the past twenty seven years Ivan has been an attraction at the Big Top Mall along with an elephant and other animals.  Living behind a glass enclosed cage, or what Ivan calls his “domain,” he reflects on his life, his family, and human behavior. Ivan is “patient as a stone” and has learned a lot about humans and human behavior.  As Ivan states, “Gorillas are not complainers. We’re dreamers, poets, philosophers, nap takers.” Ivan is also an artist and makes a promise to get away from the mall to a better place, like a zoo, where he and the other animals can live a better life.

The story is engaging and the writing, elegant.  Right in the beginning I was captivated when I read sentences that read like poetry, heavy with imagery:  “Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot.” The descriptions of humans leave imprints on your brain “Humans speak too much. They chatter like chimps, crowding the world with their noise even when they have nothing to say.”

Julie, the daughter of the mall’s nighttime cleaner realizes that Ivan does not belong in the glass prison housed at a mall. She sets in motion a series of events that help Ivan and the other animals get to a better place.

While reading the book I felt sorry for Ivan and the other animals, it does make a strong statement about the treatment of animals.  At the same time,  while reading I was cheering Ivan on, laughing, and excited when he finally found a new home.

The most intriguing part of this story is that it is based on an actual gorilla named Ivan who lived for twenty seven years at a mall in Washington until animal rights activists got involved and helped Ivan get moved to the Atlanta Zoo.

In 1993, The New York Times published an article about the real Ivan and his future after being kept at a mall.

Here are other text pairing for The One and Only Ivan:

Me . . . Jane (2011) by Patrick McDonnell is a picture book about a young Jane Goodall who dreams of “a life living with and helping all animals.”

Lucy – Radiolab (on NPR) did a story in 2010 about a female gorilla, Lucy, who was raised by humans (similar to Ivan). It is an interesting story with a very different ending.

 

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