Browse Category by YA/MG Book Club
Commentary, YA/MG Book Club

Books for the Reluctant Reader

I have fond memories of sitting outside on a hot summer day and reading books for hours on end.  Some of those books (Bridge to Terabithia, for example) I would finish and then begin again at page one.  I loved reading, and still do.

However, for parents who know the importance of summer reading, it can be really frustrating to not have your child have the same motivation.  Here are a few suggestions for parents of a reluctant summertime reader:

1.  Pick the right book.

There are plenty of studies out there that show that literacy is literacy, be it Harry Potter, Sunset Magazine, or War and Peace.  I’m not totally sure how I feel about that, but I would argue that summer is a great time to take your reluctant reader to the bookstore or library and have them choose whatever they want to read.  Even if it makes you cringe to think about it (Twilight, anyone?).  None of these suggestions make me cringe, but none of them are probably in your child’s curriculum, making them a perfect fit.

For the hopeless romantic (come on, you know you loved this one):

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For the silly middle schooler (this is a series):

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For the artist (both are great):

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For the kid who thinks non-fiction is boring:

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For the kid who loves satire and parody:

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For the kid who loves a great mystery:

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2.  Read with your child.

This is so powerful. Imagine sitting around the dinner table and, instead of forcing conversation, having an at-ready topic you can discuss with your child.  It’s like having a daily, no-strings-attached book club, with all the benefits.

3.  Don’t make reading seem like a chore.

I understand why parents set a “reading time” at home, but more often than not I see it backfire.  Reluctant readers will equate this time as a  a form of punishment.  Read at home, and often, but let it be organic.  The point is to get your reluctant reader to pick up a book for their own pleasure.

4.  Rent the movie

Many wonderful books are made into (sometimes not equally) wonderful movies.  But who cares, when the point is to spend quality time with your child?  If you can, rent the movie after you’re done with the book, pop gallons of popcorn, and talk loudly about how the characters do or do not match your expectations.

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. 

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.

Creative Writing Workshop, Teaching, YA/MG Book Club

Creative Writing Workshop Week 1: What If?

Today I taught my first creative writing workshop class for the summer, focused on story mapping.  There were six of us in total today, and it was SO much fun to spend an hour talking about reading and writing.  I learned that I am just going to have to bite the bullet and read the Divergent series (that’s not really my genre, but the kids seemed to love it), and I definitely need to download Fangirl to my Nook right away.

This is such a cool group because all of them are wanting to work on something “new” for the workshop.  That means a lot of idea brainstorming.  My advice to them, and to every budding writer looking for a great idea… think “What if?

What if…. the Kardashians were really space aliens?

What if… my school turned out to be a secret hideout for the mafia?

What if… a person could only communicate by singing?

What if… I woke up one morning and my family had vanished?

We could have gone back and forth on these ideas all day, but the point of the brainstorm was to help kids figure out a good idea from a not-so-good one.  And the only way to do that is by story mapping.  Here is my story arc, which we began filling in together:

Story Arc CW WorkshopThen, once we figure out the beginning, middle, and end, I had them start thinking about the details for each of those sections, to get their plots charted and (hopefully) paced.  I encouraged the kids to use the boxes however it made sense to them– pictures, diagrams, words..

Chapter Map

I created both of these with Canva, my newest web-obsession. Graphic design made super easy!

Can’t wait to see what the writers come back with in two weeks!

Commentary, YA/MG Book Club

Summer Reading 2014

Do I really need to go into the importance of keeping kids reading during their summer breaks?

No, of course not! However, I do think that making a list of “to-read” books for kids at home is a great way to keep track and stay focused on making reading a priority.

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So here is my list of “to-reads” for this summer, in no particular order:

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What are YOURS?

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

Three Tips for Classroom Visits

By far, the most fun thing about publishing a YA book is being able to go to schools and talk to kids about creative writing.  Granted, I’m a teacher and miss the classroom terribly, so that is definitely part of the joy for me.  But more than that, I know that my visit is providing a service to the teacher.  A chance for her kids to make connections, ask questions… even a chance for the teacher to just take a seat for a few minutes while someone else does the “teaching”.  What a gift!

If you are a YA writer who has never taught, however, a classroom visit could be pretty daunting.  Here are three tips to make it a successful visit:

1.  Coordinate with the teacher first

The first school I visited had not read my book, so my presentation to them was more around the creative writing and publishing process.  (They had just finished NaNoWriMo.) The second school I visited yesterday had read my book, so my presentation was much more about the plot and the creative decisions I made for the characters.  The school I’m visiting next week will have 80 students in total, none of whom have read my book but just finished a unit on poetry.  So my presentation will change, to suit their curriculum and keep my visit relevant.  (Way more fun for me, too!)

This is a game I call "Creative Writing Taboo". Each student had three minutes to describe their favorite food without using 10 common words associated with food. So fun!
This is a game I call “Creative Writing Taboo”. Each student had three minutes to describe their favorite food without using 10 common words associated with food. So fun!

2.  Keep it simple

If you are a planner like me, you probably want to have every moment of a classroom visit planned out.  What is the best way to do that?  A powerpoint, of course!  THIS IS A TERRIBLE IDEA.  Powerpoint is a crutch, and unless you have some sort of visual that MUST be presented on an overhead, then nix the technology.  The kids you visit want to hear from YOU, they don’t want to see you read from slides.  I’ve found that simple Q & A is the best part of the presentation, and should be completely organic.

3.  Sell your book

I very stupidly didn’t send a book order form home with the kids when I visited my first school.  Yesterday I did, and I sold nine copies (out of a class of 20!) .  It was so fun to sign the books to the kids– a win/win for ALL of us!

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

Back in the Classroom!

This Tuesday I had the honor of going to a local school to present to a group of creative writers about writing and publishing.  So, so, so, SO fun!

Aside from talking about this:

TakeBack_web_large[3]We talked about NaNoWriMo for Young Writers (the vast majority of these kids had finished writing a whole book!) and what the writing process was like for me.

I’ve been out of the classroom for more than three years now, and my visit on Tuesday made me miss teaching more than I had in a long time.  You know what I miss the most?


Here’s a sample of some of the questions I was asked:

1.  Who are some of the writers that have influenced you?

2.  How did you choose the perspective from which to write your book?

3.  Do you think it’s better to base characters on people you know or create them out of your imagination?

4.  Is it better to have a main character who is likable or unlikable?  (I was totally stumped– what a FANTASTIC question!)

5.  Have you ever thought about writing about kids with disabilities?

I mean, seriously!  What a joy to be around such thoughtful, insightful young people.  I’m honored to write for them!

Commentary, YA/MG Book Club

How to Host a YA/Middle Grade Book Club

I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve talked to who are interested in having their young kids be a part of a book club.  Most often, these are moms who are already a part of a book club and know how great they can be.  The problem, though, is that a YA or Middle Grade book club will look a whole lot different than an adult book club (no wine!).  Here are some tips for hosing a YA/Middle Grade Book Club that I have found most useful:

1.  Choose Wisely

A common mistake for parents to make is to choose books that are too difficult or “not fun” for their kids to read.  Think about it this way– they are (hopefully) reading plenty of challenging material at school.  Their “free choice” material should not feel like school work.  That doesn’t mean it has to be frivolous or inappropriate!  Just do some research, read the book first yourself, and then make a pick.  My current favorite is Wonder, by RJ Palacio:


2.  Keep it small

Chances are, if you let your friends know you’re starting a YA book club for young people, parents are going to leap at the chance to get their kids to join.  Resist!  At the 6th-9th grade ages, the more kids you have the less chance you’ll have to keep control over the group to lead discussion.  I would say five kids– max.

3.  Set a realistic time line

My book club(s) meet once a month, and for me it’s no big deal to read two books a month.  For a junior high student, that can be a really big deal.  For a book like Wonder, I would give students 6-8 weeks to finish it (PLENTY of time).  You can always adjust if that proves to be too much or too little time.

4.   Keep it low-key

Host at your house, get the pillows out, and just let everyone hang out and talk about the book.  No need for pens, pencils, powerpoint… you aren’t “teaching” this book to them.

5.  YOU keep the conversation going

While you aren’t “teaching” the book, you will be leading the discussion.  Keep several “essential” questions on hand for lulls in the conversation.  Use the internet cautiously– these shouldn’t be plot-based, rather they should be theme-based.  Here are a few examples I would use for Wonder:

  • Is your school like the school portrayed in Wonder?  Why or why not?
  • Did Auggie’s parents do the right thing by homeschooling him for so long?
  • What is the definition of a good friend?
  • How could Auggie’s teachers have made his integration into school better?
  • What is the definition of a good teacher?

6.  Eat

At my book club meetings, the food is often as much a part of the discussion as the book.  Get some fun snacks, relax, and show your young adults how wonderful reading for pleasure can be!