Browse Category by Teachable Books
Book Reviews, Teachable Books, Teaching

A Teachable Book: The Hate U Give

If you are anywhere close to the YA world recently, you’ve heard of The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. “It’s about Black Lives Matter”, is the way that people usually talk about it in passing. I just finished listening to the audio recording of this, and let me tell you: it lives up to the hype. 

The premise is so important and relevant. A young black girl witnesses the shooting of her friend by a police officer. There is nothing in this story that is any more or less dramatic than what has been covered on the news several times over the last few years.

I think when authors fictionalize such a sensitive subject as police brutality and Black Lives Matter, they run the risk of being overly preachy or one-sided. Not with this book. The author very smartly creates a main character who is very involved in both “sides” of the issue, one who is going through the highs and lows (mostly lows) with the reader. She creates empathy in small and large moments, and plenty of places for debate and discussion. She also made it sweet and endearing in many parts, not the least of which being the throw-backs to old school hip hop music. That was a wonderful way to draw in an older audience (like me!).

I know kids across the country are reading this book in droves, but I don’t know that it’s being “taught” in the traditional sense of the word. If I were to bring this book into my classroom, I would love to have students create a culminating assignment that is solutions-based. How do we bridge cultural differences in our urban communities? How do we co-exist peacefully with law enforcement and anyone who doesn’t think/believe the way we do? What are some ways we can really “hear” each other’s experiences and build empathy from them?

I can’t think of a more important time for this book to come out. I hope it wins a ton of awards and makes it into the hands of young readers in every part of the country.

Book Reviews, Commentary, Digital Citizenship, Teachable Books, Teaching

A Teachable Book: Green Card Youth Voices

Teachers are constantly– CONSTANTLY– on the lookout for how to teach inclusion, empathy, and tolerance in the classroom. THIS BOOK IS IT!




Green Card Youth Voices is just one of the books put out by Green Card Voices, a seriously incredible non-profit out of the Twin Cities. The work they do is beyond important, and this book is the youth version of a serious of stories chronicling the people who immigrate here. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

The stories stand on their own, but in case a teacher is looking for activities to go along with the book, there is a teachers guide available on their website. Amazing.

And if that isn’t enough, they have a moveable display that is making its way around Minnesota to help start conversations about inclusion and celebrating diversity.

Forget a box of chocolates for Christmas: Buy a copy for your school here!

Teachable Books, Teaching

A Few Teachable Podcasts

I have just recently gotten into the whole Podcast thing, and now I am HOOKED. Here are my three favorites, all of which would be wonderful in a high school classroom:

  1. Presidential

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This podcast hosted by a journalist for the Washington Post is fascinating, accessible, and gripping. It details each US President, starting with George Washington, and talks for 45 minutes about their contributions, their life-struggles, and what the world was like under their presidency. Perfect for a history class, and even more perfect for a history class combined with English Lit. (My favorite episode was the one about Andrew Jackson. What a complicated man, and it really made me think deeply about what “legacy” actually means.)


2. Revisionist History

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I admit to reading everything Malcolm Gladwell has written, and have loved it all. (Especially David and Goliath- life changing).  This podcast takes moments in history that may have been forgotten, overlooked, or misunderstood, and is evaluated as only Malcolm Gladwell can. Each episode is unique, but the first one, “The Lady Vanishes”, is breathtaking in its study of misogyny, racism, and power. I can’t recommend it highly enough, as it’s a springboard for many important conversations.


3. Magic Lessons


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I love Elizabeth Gilbert, and I’m not afraid to say it. I would love to hang out with her for an afternoon feed off her positive energy. But not only that, if you haven’t read The Signature of All Things, DO! Everything you might have thought about her after Eat, Pray, Love is out the window with that phenomenal historical fiction novel.

Magic Lessons would be wonderful in a philosophy or TOK class, as it takes issues about creativity and delves deeply into them. I loved the episode with the poet Mark Nepo, who gave a frustrated poet the assignment to read “Song of Myself” and reflect on each chapter as a way of understanding her life’s purpose and calling (what a great idea!). But I have to admit the episode with Ann Patchett and Brene Brown was the best for me– those two have such different life experiences, and yet they both (Gilbert, too), come to the same conclusion: we are all creative beings, and to not create and express is to stifle our purpose. Good stuff, especially for writers and students pursuing the arts.

Now that I’m hooked on this medium… more podcast recommendations are welcome!

Book Reviews, Teachable Books, Teaching

A Teachable Book: The Road to Character, by David Brooks

When I was teaching seniors, I always struggled to find books that would teach some “life lessons” before they went off into the real world.  I would often turn to short stories or compilations of stories to either fill in the gaps or add to a lesson for a book I was already teaching.

The Road to Character, by David Brooks, would be a perfect addition to that list.

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This book counteracts some of the “advice” our kids have been getting in recent generations: that the answers to all of life’s problems can be found within.  Brooks argues that we are missing something deeply profound when we see ourselves this way.  He introduces the book by saying there are two virtues we pursue in life: resume virtues and eulogy virtues.  Resume virtues (money, power, success) are not the virtues he focuses on in The Road to Character.  Rather, he focuses on the importance of cultivating “eulogy virtues”, or the things people will say about us and our legacy when we die.

Brooks highlights several historical figures, from Dwight Eisenhower to Dorothy Day (my favorite chapter- fascinating) to several Civil Rights figures.  He links them all by connecting their inner struggles: to serve, to find deeper meaning in life, to humble themselves and sacrifice of themselves to contribute meaningfully to the world.

As the book is so easily broken down by chapters, I love the idea of taking the book in pieces into a classroom.  Students could read just one chapter and present it to each other for a small group project, or as a large-class (TOK) project.  The book could also be used as a springboard for debate on many levels– are the values Brooks highlights relevant today?  (I would argue yes, more than ever!)

A fascinating read and highly recommended!

Book Reviews, Commentary, Teachable Books

Favorite Books of 2015

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  The time when I list my favorite books of 2015!  Here is my very eclectic list:


1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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I absolutely, positively, LOVED this book, and recommend it to everyone I know who loves an intense YA drama.  I cried and cried at the end.  A beautiful, well-told, and well-constructed book.


2.  The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

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Lots of parallels are made between this book and Gone Girl, which I didn’t like at all.  The difference for me was that The Girl on the Train never crosses into the realm of ridiculous, like Gone Girl does.  I loved the somewhat unlikeable and unreliable narrator.  This was a real page-turner, for me.


3.  So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson

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I’m fascinated by how people behave online, so even though I didn’t love everything about this book, I find myself referencing it often.  Reading it forces you to re-evaluate your own online relationships, how you present yourself online, and how others do as well.


4.  The Book of Strange New Things, by Michael Faber

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I almost never read science fiction.  It just isn’t my genre.  However, I picked this one up and couldn’t put it down.  I loved how it was told– from the perspective of a religious man, far into the future, on a planet far away.  His relationship with his wife back on Earth is at the heart of how he understands life on the new planet, as well as the afterlife.


5.  Everything You Ever Wanted, by Jillian Lauren

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This is a beautiful memoir about adoption, but for me it was more than that.  This story forced me to look at parenthood as a whole, how we support mothers in our society (ahem… a post for another time), and how we support one another. I’ve thought of this book often since finishing it, especially in moments of subconscious judgement of other parents.


6.  The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton

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I quite literally picked up this book because I found the cover stunning.  (Yes, we do judge books by their covers!) But what I found was a first for me– accessible magical realism for young adults, set in the United States.  I loved the use of language and the lovely story, and will recommend it for any teacher struggling to teach the concept of magical realism.

Commentary, Digital Citizenship, Teachable Books, Teaching

Three (Well, Four) Titles for Teaching Digital Citizenship

How great is it that schools are beginning to implement curriculum around digital citizenship?  Even the term implies the importance of it– we live in an age where we are expected to be digitally savvy, and yet comes with that the need to be a “citizen” of that space.  The same way we are citizens of our homes, our schools, our state, our country.  This work is so very important.

My new book, Edge the Bare Garden, is the story of a girl who sees the opportunity to get revenge online against the people who tormented her in grade school.  My hope is that it opens up conversations about what our responsibilities are to ourselves and each other online.  Here are three titles that I have been using to create a presentation to give to schools on this topic.

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Extreme Mean, by Paula Todd, is similar to So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed in that it is filled with anecdotes about how the online world can easily spin out of control.  What’s great about this book is that it’s filled with examples that are relevant to young people, including horrible instances of cyberbullying.  I will be referring to this book a lot when I talk to kids this year, particularly Chapter 19 (The Maddening Crowd: How Online Bystanders Fuel Cyberabuse).  YES.

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LOL… OMG, by Matt Ivesteris a great resource for teachers and parents.   It is short, precise, and organized in such a way that it lends itself to an excellent weeklong unit.  (Each chapter even has key takeaways!)  This book had me rethinking my own online presence, and how I need to practice what I preach about being careful online.

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Screen-Smart Parenting, by Jodi Gold, is a really interesting book about finding balance with technology in the home.  I know I find this difficult.  What I liked was that this was not a “technology is terrible” book (I strongly believe it’s not!) but more about seeing apps and devices as something that need to be monitored closely and used respectfully.

What other great reads on digital citizenship am I missing?

Book Reviews, Commentary, Teachable Books, Teaching

Go Set a Watchman, or How to Break a Bookworm’s Heart

I have written here about my skepticism about Go Set a Watchman, but now that I’m a couple weeks out from finishing it and have thoroughly wiped away my tears, I’m ready to write about the experience.  Full disclosure:  I know To Kill a Mockingbird better than most any other book in the world. It is the only book I’ve taught every single year in the classroom.  I have a whole lesson devoted to theories about why Harper Lee wouldn’t have published another book, and another devoted to the full analysis of the movie, beginning with why Gregory Peck is the ONE and ONLY Atticus. This is the bias I’m writing from, and I own it fully.

Okay.  Here goes.

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Go Set a Watchman was clearly a first draft of the masterpiece that is To Kill a Mockingbird.  The characters, the dialogue, the “plot”, the EVERYTHING. It read like a first(ish) time writer, trying to figure out her voice.  I didn’t mind that about it.  In fact, it was wonderful in some ways to read more from Harper Lee’s distinctive style.  I had heard rumblings about Atticus, that’s he’s a racist in the book (habba WHA???), that the Scout we know from Mockingbird was unrecognizable.  All of that was true.

THAT is not what broke my heart.

The only thing I could think of, page after page, was Harper Lee herself.  I obviously don’t know her, but as a writer now I feel much more in tune with the ups and downs of the writing process.  How each and every book on the shelf at the library is someone’s heart and soul.  I kept thinking about the drafts of stories on my computer, angsty tomes about unrequited love and other silly nonsense.  My writing at twenty is nothing like my writing at thirty-seven, and those pieces will never see the light of day.  That is okay.  I think Harper Lee identified with this on a much larger scale, considering her super-stardom in the literary world and her shyness from the spotlight and unwillingness to publish another novel in all this time.

And yet, this work was “found” and still published.  The timing is far too convenient for HarperCollins, the publishers raking in millions and millions with this book.

So my heart didn’t break for Mockingbird, which is untouchable in my eyes.  Rather, it broke for Harper Lee, for her legacy, and for the sad reality of publishing today.

Money is what matters.  Not content.

I would never recommend this book to be taught in a classroom, but if for some reason it were, I would have my students read it in conjunction with Mockingbird.  And then I would have them write an essay exploring the following topics:

1.  What is our responsibility in preserving the legacy of great works of art?

2.  What is our responsibility toward the elderly?  

And finally, probably most importantly:

3.  In what ways does the publication of Go Set a Watchman confirm the sad state of the money-hungry world we live in?

Okay, fine.  That last one would just be for me.

Book Reviews, Teachable Books, Teaching

A Teachable Book: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

This week I finished a truly captivating book called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson.

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If you use the Internet or know someone who does, read this book.  But reader be warned: this is a tough read.  I’m not talking about the prose, I’m talking about the subject matter.  Ronson tells the cautionary tales of people whose lives were ruined based on bad decisions on social media, and after every single chapter I was left with a feeling of dread.  For the person shamed, the future of online shaming, and the possibility of ever being on the receiving end of it.

I knew most of the anecdotes Ronson referred to (the AIDS joke girl on Twitter, the Facebook photo at a war memorial), but I had certainly been part of the “masses” that saw the story, rolled their eyes, and shrugged off the online crucification of these girls for their poor decisions.  What I didn’t know what the whole story behind Jonah Leher’s public shaming or the fact that– for the uber rich– there are ways of paying people to “fix” the internet so your public shaming doesn’t haunt you the rest of your life.

I read this book thinking it must— in part– be taught to high school seniors.  Before they depart into the vast “real world” they need to see what their online presence really, truly means to them, and how their actions (and inactions) online define them as a person.  My only struggle was that many of these “shamings” are so brutal and disgusting that it would be nearly impossible to assign it in the classroom. That conundrum is fascinating to me, and is something to talk about in and of itself.

I didn’t love all of this book.  There was a section where Ronson explores pornography and the “shaming” that goes on there, and I felt like it was unnecessary and didn’t serve much purpose.  There was also a section on “Radical Honesty” which, while really interesting, didn’t seem to fit.  But maybe I was reading this with the lens of a teacher, and wanted the whole book to be about how and why we are who we are on the internet, and how we can fix this public-shaming world we live in, especially online.

If you are a teacher, here are some pointers for getting this book into the classroom:

  • Consider photocopying (with permission) the first couple sections of the book.  Take a sharpie to the super-inappropriate parts, but leave the big black marks there so the kids can see just how much was “censored” due to content.
  • Integrate portions of this book into a philosophy unit- so many options here.
  • Do a PBL project about social media– have kids determine their hypothesis/thesis.  This would be an awesome book to do a social media “experiment”.
  • Watch Jon Ronson’s extended interview with Jon Stewart here.
Creative Writing Workshop, Teachable Books, The Indie Journey

Why We Ink: Pubslush Campaign

What an honor it was to edit and write the forward for Why We Ink, Poems, Stories, and Essays from the Pens of Young Writers.  I realize I’m completely biased, but this is one awesome anthology.

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As with many independent books, Pubslush is making this and subsequent books a possibility.  If you’re able, please purchase an advanced copy!

Commentary, Teachable Books, Teaching

New Harper Lee! New Harper Lee?

A couple weeks ago, the book-nerd world went crazy when news surfaced that Harper Lee was going to publish a second novel, a “sequel” to To Kill A Mockingbird.  Believe me, I was one of  those book nerds.  I have pre-ordered lots of books before, but none with such excitement as this one.

But once all the excitement wore down I got to thinking…To_Kill_a_Mockingbird

Harper Lee’s notorious seclusion has been as much a part of teaching To Kill A Mockingbird as the story itself.  I can’t tell you how many students have said, “Wait.  Is SHE Boo Radley?”  I have always loved the debates struck up in class about why she wouldn’t have written another book, why she would deny interviews all these years, why she lives such a private life.  So…. why now?

I’ve been reading some great reflections over the last couple weeks.  This one on author idolatry is fantastic, and this one, about my beloved Atticus and the Civil Rights Movement got me thinking, too.  What all this speculation about the publishing motivations behind Go Set a Watchman has done is made me extremely skeptical.  Sure, I will devour this book as soon as I can, but I won’t be reading it as though it’s the second coming of To Kill a Mockingbird.  In all likelihood, I’ll be reading it like I would a treasured poem written by my own mother, and be extremely protective of its content and legacy.

I would love to hear how classroom teachers are talking about the new Harper Lee novel, particularly ones teaching Mockingbird right now.  If you’re looking for some great resources for the classroom, here are a few articles to get conversation going:

Teenage Opinion: Why I’m Excited About the New Harper Lee Book (via The Guardian)

Does Harper Lee Really Want Her Book Published, and Do Her Wishes Matter?  (via the LA Times)

Harper Lee Backs New Novel (via the NY Times)

Book Reviews, Commentary, Teachable Books, YA/MG Book Club

A Teachable Book: Small Moments

Last week I finished a fabulous book called Small Moments, by Mary M. Barrow:

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Small Moments is a collection of the author’s memories living a privileged life in New Jersey with an African American housemaid during the Civil Rights movement.  The title of the book isn’t misleading– the book really does read like a collection of “small moments” from her life, sometimes not told chronologically. In fact, the whole time I was reading I was thinking that this could also be called a collection of short stories– that is how easily each chapter stands on its own.

Small Moments would be fabulous in a school setting in a number of ways.  The first, of course, is its relevance (particularly this week, as we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.).  It could easily be paired with To Kill a Mockingbird and even Of Mice and Men. Secondly, what I absolutely loved about this book was that each chapter (except one) started with a short paragraph describing the context of the story she was about to tell.  For example, the chapter called “Michael” began with some historical context about Emmett Till.  This is great for the student reading, but also a HUGE help for the teacher who might be trying to plan a unit around the book!

I usually talk about essential questions when I post a book review, but in this case the author has done that for you. The back of the book includes an author Q and A and discussion questions, which is a gift for any teacher or book club involving young kids.

It was a joy to read Small Moments.  The writing is wonderful and the author’s description of her beloved housemaid is both beautiful and heartbreaking.  I hope it makes its way into the classroom!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.  Opinions are all my own. 

Book Reviews, Commentary, Teachable Books, Teaching

A Teachable Book: Without You There Is No Us

A couple weeks ago I finished Without You There Is No Us by Suki Kim:

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This was not my favorite memoir, but I love it for the classroom.  LOVE.

Full disclosure:  I have a soft spot in my heart for this book.  I taught in Beijing, taught many South Korean students, and even one North Korean (whom I thought of pretty much the entire time reading this).  I can see how the subject of being a student in North Korea might not hold the fascination for other teachers that it does for me.  However this memoir has so much to it, and is particularly relevant today with the Sony hacking scandal going on.

This story essentially follows the author as she teaches at a school in Pyongyang for North Korea’s elite.  She goes under the guise of a Christian missionary, but is really documenting information for her book.  The book is fragmented in parts– she goes from her love life (which added almost nothing to the story), to her relationship with the students (which could have been developed much further, in my opinion), and her limited access to the daily lives of actual North Koreans (which was endlessly fascinating to me).  It would be fabulous to team teach this book with a history teacher, or add it in a curriculum like Global Studies.  Here are a few essential questions, ideas, and resources to consider:

  • Compare and contrast the North Korean and North American educational system.  How is it similar, how is it different?
  • How is the role of “teacher” portrayed in this book versus the role of “teacher” in a Western society?
  • Discuss the psychology of the characters:  The student body, the teachers, the author.  How do their life experiences influence how they view North Korea?
  • What is our responsibility (as US citizens) to the North Korean people, if any?  (This one is soooooo juicy… I would love to assign this as an essay topic!)
  • Discuss the film “The Interview” (I haven’t seen it, but I’m guessing it’s far too racy for a classroom.  The context of the movie would be good enough, I imagine.)
    • Should Sony have made the film?
    • Should they have pulled the film, after they’d been hacked?
    • What responsibility does the entertainment industry have toward other cultures?  (Again, this one could be an absolutely fascinating discussion/debate/essay topic.)
  • What was Suki Kim’s purpose in writing the book?  Did she achieve that purpose?

Here’s Frontline’s documentary The Secret State of North Korea

And an interesting documentary called 10 Days in North Korea

And so much more out there!

Book Reviews, Commentary, Teachable Books

My Favorite Books of 2014

Well, another year is almost over, and what do book nerds do but recap their favorite reads of the year?  Here are my top five:

1.  All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr


In fairness, I have not finished this book.  But I am loving it.  Loving it in an Invisible Bridge kind of way, and that is saying a LOT.

2.  The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

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What is there left to say about this book?  Phenomenal, in a million different ways.

3.  Stillwater, by Nicole Helget

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What a strange and wonderful book this was.  Highly recommended, especially for a proud Minnesotan.

4.  The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

download (3)Sue Monk Kidd will always have a special place in my heart after The Secret Life of Bees.  Her prose in this book is similar, which is to say beautiful and thought-provoking.

5.  Three special non-fiction books:

Malala)stiffemptymansionsFine, this is cheating.  But I totally loved all three of these books, and am just unable to pick one as my favorite.  (Without You There is No Us, by Suki Kim was also great, but needs its own blog post). Each one is fascinating in its own way and would make for great conversation in a book club or school setting.  2015 is shaping up to be quite non-fiction heavy for me, so if you have a recommendation please send it my way!



Book Reviews, Commentary, Common Core, Teachable Books

A Teachable Book: The Book of Unknown Americans

I just finished The Book Of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez. I was blown away.  Here is a wonderful review by Chicago Reader.

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It is impossible to have taught House on Mango Street and not draw comparisons between the two books.  I LOVE Mango Street, don’t get me wrong, but my biggest challenge with it is that it has always been a fairly “easy” read for 9-10th grade, and I’ve always focused on it as a more creative piece than as literary fiction.  But The Book of Unknown Americans is both a fascinating series of stories AND is appropriately challenging for high school.

Here are just a few essential questions The Book of Unknown Americans raises:

  • How important is it for Americans to understand stories of immigration?
  • What is our responsibility to those people coming to our country, legally or illegally?
  • To what extent does community shape who we are?
  • What is more important:  a strong family unit or a strong school community?

Disclaimer:  Before you give this to your child to read, read it yourself.  It is not sex/violence-free, but I think these issues are dealt with beautifully and tastefully.

Teachable Books, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High, YA/MG Book Club

Mother-Daughter Book Club

Despite being an avid reader my whole life, I resisted joining a book club until a few years ago.  Now that I am in one (okay, two) I see how wonderful it is.  Ever since becoming a writer, it was a dream of mine to have my book picked as a book club read.  This past month, it was!  Today I got to visit the first Mother-Daughter book club that read The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High.


It was an absolutely gorgeous afternoon, so we got a chance to read and talk outside (Midwesterners never take this for granted!):

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They even treated us to an impromptu performance, inspired by Shakespeare (the book’s portrayal, that is).


Even the treats were Take-Back inspired!:


This particular group has been reading together for coming up on six years.  That is amazing!  And these girls, with their thoughtful questions and comments, have clearly benefitted from having such supportive, involved moms:


Beyond the questions I’m used to getting (How did you think of the character’s names?  Where did you get the idea for the story?) these girls really stumped me a few times.  The first question I got was, “Why did you call it ‘Junior High’? Shouldn’t it be ‘Middle School’?” This sparked a lesson in semantics for me, and I loved it!

I’m so inspired by these girls (and proud of their moms!) for making reading for fun a priority.

Book Reviews, Commentary, Common Core, Teachable Books, Teaching

A Teachable Book: I Am Malala

Last night I finished I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai.  I absolutely loved it and highly recommend it to anyone out there looking for an incredible read.


As I was reading, I couldn’t help but relate it to the classroom.  This book must– MUST– be considered as part of curriculum for American kids.  Everything from its current relevance, fascinating history, and Malala’s sweet voice make it a perfect addition to an English or History classroom (and even more perfect for a curriculum that blends the two).

I think the common mistake in teaching a book like this is to ignore some of the larger themes and instead focus on the events themselves.  Doing so is fine I suppose, but I have found that the danger is that the assignments can be more “book report” than thoughtful analysis.

If I were to be teaching this book, I would offer the following essay prompts as choices for a culminating assignment:

  • Should education be considered a basic human right?  (Or for a more advanced class, What is the role of the United States in ensuring that education is a basic human right around the world?)
  • To what extent is social media a catalyst for good? Evil?  (I would give kids the option to write about good OR evil… but suggest that to write about both would be the “challenging” choice.)
  • Is Malala’s father a good parent? (This would definitely be the “easier” choice, but still could be argued with lots of support from the text or outside sources.)
  • To what extent are political activists doomed to a life of isolation?  (The epilogue to Malala’s book is heartbreaking.)

I would love to debate in class the idea of Malala’s celebrity. (She debates it herself in the book!)  I also think there are endless discussions to be had about “mob mentality” and the danger of extremism in all forms.  A fantastic PBL project would be to have kids identity “Malalas” from all around the world and display the faces of youth activism around the school.  SO much to do with the fantastic book!

Here are some fantastic resources I found, as well:

Malala’s interview with Jon Stewart

New York Times article about Malala

“Class Dismissed” 

Discussion Questions from Little Brown

Malala’s interview on CNN (50+ minutes)

Malala’s address to the UN Youth Assembly

Commentary, Common Core, Teachable Books, Teaching

Four Cures for the End-of-the-Year Blues

All good teachers know that you never– NEVER– give students their “final” on the last day of school, if you can help it. There are two reasons for this.  One, teachers who do that are left with a stack of 200+ papers to grade, all while administration clicks their tongues waiting for their marks and the rest of the school is packing up for the summer.  And two, students have already “checked out” by that point. Anything you receive on the last day of class is likely to be haphazard and rushed.

So, assuming teachers have taken care of their final assessments several weeks before the school closes up for the summer, they are left with a significant issue:  school is still in session, the kids have the wiggles, and you still have some learning to do.  Here are a few tricks I’ve learned to keep everyone focused and engaged in the last weeks of school:

1.  Plan a Philosophy mini-unit

This works well with seniors, especially.  Take a few days at the end of the year to contrast Locke, Confucius, and Plato.  Or Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel.  Students could even choose their own “thinkers”. Depending on how you’re doing with the Standards, these readings could be applied many different ways, but my favorite is a “Personal Philosophy Book” which gives students a chance to reflect on their personal beliefs and share them briefly with their peers.

2.  Plan a Cultural Literacy unit

This is probably the most valuable thing I got from my own senior year of high school.  Take a few days to explain what an albatross around one’s neck means, or what M.O. stands for.  I used this book, which is the handbook for all things Cultural Literacy.

3.  Show a fantastic movie, and integrate it well

My favorite for upperclassmen is “Contact”, with Jodie Foster (this works really well with a philosophy unit).  I also love “Food, Inc” (check to make sure the science department hasn’t already shown it).

4.  Project Based Learning

I absolutely love PBLs, but have found that they can be challenging in practice.  At the end of the year, students could do a quick PBL on “anything” relating to your subject matter, and present their findings in teams or solo, again depending on how well you’ve hit your standards for the year.

Commentary, Guest Post, Teachable Books, Teaching, The Indie Journey, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High

Teachers Make the Best Writers

This post originally appeared at The Novel Novice:

Go to a staff development meeting at your kids’ schools.  Do it.  Watch the room full of teachers, people who tell your kids every single day to pay attention, sit up straight, don’t look at their cell phones, give it their all…. Watch them do exactly the opposite of that.  Side conversations.  Sneaked text messages.  Grading papers while other people are talking.

There is a saying that teachers make the worst students.  It is true.

I taught high school English for seven years before becoming a stay at home mom and author.  Some of my best lesson planning happened during meetings when I was supposed to be paying attention to something else.  In our defense, teachers are so inundated with paperwork, so bound by their school’s bell schedule, that they often don’t have the luxury of giving anything their undivided attention.  Multitasking is just the reality of the job.

As I wrote my first YA novel, The Take Back of Lincoln Junior High, I had this reality in mind. The swamped, overworked, and underpaid teacher that I was sat like my own private editor on my shoulder.  How about chapter lengths that could be easily read as a nightly homework assignment? The teacher in me kept asking.  How about organizing the vocabulary words in the back?  How about coming up with some writing prompts to help teachers actually teach this thing?

Writing and publishing is about so much more than just telling a good story.  Don’t get me wrong—that is important. But the idea I had for my book wasn’t just as entertainment for kids.  I wanted it to be used in the classroom to help facilitate discussion.  I wanted teachers to see it as a resource, not just another to-do on their plate.

I knew I could do that, because I was one of them.  Even on the hard days, even on the days when I didn’t have lunch and my front seat was piled high with papers to grade, I loved being one of them.  Being a teacher meant that I knew my direct audience—kids—but also my indirect audience—the exhausted adults who love them.

Knowing both—wanting to positively impact both—gave me a vision and a purpose.  A career that I am proud to watch unfold.

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