Warm reads

Since I’ve been in college, summer’s beginning comes with excitement and apprehension. I’m eager to get home and get working, but there’s so much to do in the days ahead that I can’t really get to the happy part yet. We’re getting there slowly, though.

This year is different. This is a summer of many big firsts; my brother graduates high school this year and will be joining me here in the fall. I’m starting a job at a place I’ve wanted to work at since I was young, and will get to be in the heart of the Sandhills. I’m taking my boyfriend to his first Royals game and get to make memories and live more life with him. I’ll be 21 in July and will be able to buy my own boxed wine and Big Bucket daquiri mixes.

I’ll also be embarking on my very first summer reading challenge. I don’t exactly count the summer reading program “challenges” we did in elementary school, because 1.) I always started it, but never finished it because the books weren’t to my liking, and 2.) I’m still sour that I didn’t get invited to the exclusive summer reading program party, because of reason 1. However, I fully intend on finishing this challenge because I get to choose what I read.

Because I’ll turn 21 this year, I’ll read 21 books this summer. I might pick up a picture book or two, but my main concern is with YA books of all sorts; short stories, series books, graphic novels, and much more are included. You name it, I’ll get ’em. If I divide it by three months, that’s 7 books a month. Here’s a few that I’ve got picked out so far:

  • Glass Sword and King’s Cage, both part of the Red Queen series)
  • Boxers and Saints: Saints
  • Eleanor and Park
  • Lucy and Linh
  • Brown Girl Dreaming
  • The Giver
  • All the Bright Places
  • Clockwork Angel

These are a few of the books I have so far, but I want to give myself some leeway and let books come to me as the summer unwinds. I need a little spontaneity in my reading life, and isn’t that perfect for summer?

Photo CC: Chandler Unified School District



It’s Monday! What are You Reading?: How To Be Popular

Hello, the interweb!

Tonight really is the perfect night to cap off a perfect weekend. I got to see and talk to so many family and friends these past few days, and it has all been much needed. Honestly, I haven’t felt this energized, refreshed, and plain HAPPY in a good long while. Of course this is positive in every facet of my life, but one area that’s been especially primped because of this was my reading!

Yes, all, as much as I love reading a good book to lift my spirits when I’m low, I also love reading when I’m lifted. Because I was feeling sentimental, I chose a Meg Cabot book for this week. I’m a huge ol’ Cabot fan, and this was one of the few picks I hadn’t read yet in her collection.

How To Be Popular features Steph Landry,  an average high school girl who has been plagued since 6th grade by an unfortunate accident involving a red slushie, a white D&G skirt, and the most popular girl in school. Though she has been a part of the “unpopular crowd” with her best friends Jason and Becca, she’s determined that this is the year she will become popular. While looking through Jason’s grandma’s attic, she stumbles upon an old 1950s etiquette book titled none other than How To Be Popular. By following the rules and climbing the social ladder, Steph is finding more and more about what it truly means to be popular, and that it involves some sacrifices. Is being popular worth it, or are there more important things in life than popularity?

Though this wasn’t my favorite Cabot novel, I still enjoyed it enough to finish it in 2 days. Cabot’s signature humor is evident, and all of her characters are relatable. I had an interesting revelation of sorts while I was reading, however; even though I enjoyed the book, there were parts where I found myself inwardly rolling my eyes or even scolding Steph for how she acted. If I had read this at, say, 15 or 16, I don’t think I would have picked up on moments like that. It didn’t take away from the book, but for the first time in a very long time I felt my age while reading YA lit.

If you’re looking for a typical teen girl feel-good novel, this one’s it. You’ll reminisce like you wouldn’t believe, but if you’re like me you won’t mind a bit. Cabot is forever a staple author in my YA repetoire, and you’ll see why after reading this.

Read along, bookworms!

It’s Wednesday! What are You Reading?: Boxers and Saints: Boxers


Well, now that the PSA is over, let’s get back to the book review!

It’s kind of crazy that a year ago, I’d hardly heard of a graphic novel, let alone read one. After reading Persepolis (and loving it), I got wind of Boxers and Saints. After hearing great things about it, my curiosity took over and I checked it out. Once again, I wasn’t disappointed.

Boxers and Saints: Boxers centers around Bao, the youngest of three brothers living in a small village in China with their father. Bao’s life is the life of a common farmer, but the highlight of each year is the arrival of the spring festivals. Each year, food and music are plentiful, and Bao gets to see his two favorite things: the statue of the local earth god, Tu Di Gong, and the operas. Bao lives and breathes for the operas, and even has the “gods of the opera” accompany him throughout the autumn and winter.

All of this changes when the missionaries of the west begin to invade China, destroying idols and precious relics of the villagers. Bao wants to fight back, but after his father is injured permanently by foreign soldiers, he is resigned to taking care of his father and doing his regular duties; however, when mysterious kung-fu master Red Lantern comes to his village and teaches the boys in the village Kung-Fu, he becomes a brother-disciple of the Big Sword Society, a vigilante group dedicated to protecting Free China from the “foreign devils” of the west. After being chosen to harness the powers of the Gods and teaching his fellow brother-disciples, Bao becomes the leader in the fight for China and will stop at nothing to protect his country.

I finished this novel in two hours; that’s how intrigued I was with this story. The really neat thing about this novel is that it’s actually one half of two volumes; the other, Saints (big surprise, huh?), is told from the perspective of Vibiana, a converted Christian Chinese. I haven’t read Saints yet, but after reading Boxers you can bet that’s what I’m onto next. It’s a genius take on the Boxer rebellion, and the “two sides to every story” aspect is visible throughout this book, even though it’s half to a whole.

If anyone is still looking for a graphic novel, this is a great one to start with. If you start with Saints, though, don’t spill the goods—I’m eager to read Vibiana’s side.

Happy reading (and Easter!), fancy friends.

Live and Let Read

I’m kinda bossy.

It’s a personality trait that has both served me well and led me into hot water more than a time or two. I prefer the term assertive, but if we’re being honest, bossy is more accurate.


One person who was especially fond of this part of me and all the headaches that came with it (sorry Mom and Dad) was my brother. When he gave me resistance if I asked him to do something, I’d proceed to nag until he became fed up with me and wouldn’t do whatever I wanted whatsoever. I’d get frustrated because wouldn’t listen, so that made two kids with serious stink faces and even stinkier attitudes. This is where Dad, ever patient with his stubborn daughter, would say, “If you just leave him alone, he’ll do it. Sometimes you have to leave people alone to let them get things done.”

Fast forward fifteen years, and he’s still right (don’t let him know I said that, though; only the women in the house can be right. Right?). People need a little independence in their lives, and always being told what to do gets stale awfully quick. So often in education we see all the decisions being made by the teachers, with little to no input from the students. We worry that they aren’t being challenged enough, or perhaps that they’re being challenged too much; this especially hits home for English and Lit teachers. If we have this problem, and if we keep having this problem year after year, something needs to be fixed; how, then, do we patch the seemingly unpatchable?

The answer is clear and simple: give students freedom and choice in their reading.

Most teachers will read the previous sentence as one word and one world only: nonsense. Teachers are scared that if students aren’t reading great (albeit advanced) literature in high school, they won’t read it ever. They ask questions like, “If we don’t make them read The Scarlet Letter, when else will they read it?” or “What are they going to gain from reading YA books?”, or my personal favorite, “What will they do when it comes time for standards and placement exams?” 

Here’s a newsflash to all educators: They aren’t reading what’s assigned anyway. These books, which for many are so high above their reading level and frankly, too boring for teens to trudge through. They’re searching every SparkNote and Shmoop summary they can find to pass the worksheets and tests used to “keep accountability”, reading maybe 10 out of every 300 pages assigned. I won’t even mention how badly it’s zapping their love for any literature and essentially extinguishing their reading lives.

What happens when we allow these students to read books of their choice? Flourishing. Creativity. Actual learning. Forming book clubs, promoting reading communities, and hosting workshops will engage our students and allow them to grow in their reading lives, and all the while they’ll be reading the books they love. Giving choice in the classroom lets students become responsible for their learning, and if given the chance they’ll take it. Need proof to back it up? Donalyn Miller, Nancie Atwell, and Lucy Calkins have just what you need to show what independent choice reading can do for our students (All you test hounds can take a breath; choice reading is shown to up test scores as well!).

*collective deep breath from teachers everywhere*

We play one of the biggest parts in our students’ reading lives. We can make or break their reading lives and determine whether or not they will be lifelong readers, and that’s huge. Giving them the choice in what they read is the least we can do for our students, especially when the effects are proven to be so positive. The Scarlet Letter can wait; let them read Divergent and City of Bones and see what happens.


Image CC: This IS Literacy

It’s Monday! What are You Reading?: Salt to the Sea, Pt. 1

One of the cool things about this class is that I’ve had oodles of recommendations on books. Nothing warms my cold, cold heart like having a good reading community with a healthy amount of books being read, and this class has been just that. I try to read equal parts recommendations and equal parts random finds, and so far it’s been a strategy that’s worked well.

This week, I decided to read the highly-recommended Salt to the Sea. Everyone’s been raving about it, so naturally I had to see for myself what the big deal was. It’s historical fiction, which instantly had my interest because it’s my ALL TIME FAVORITE GENRE. I’m crazy about historical fiction, mainly because you not only have the pleasure of reading about the plight’s of characters you can find kinship with, but you can also learn a thing or two about history along the way. Double win.

This week, however, I have to add a disclaimer: I’m not yet finished with this book. I’m about 2/3 of the way there, and I’m itching to get back to it; it’s taking a considerable amount of willpower to write this post about it, but I’ll give a short summary of the action so far.

It’s WWII, and the Germans are breaking. For many, that means a surge of Russian troops occupying land, and nothing but destruction will come from it. Four people, all from different backgrounds, share one common goal: to board the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises a way out for the thousands evacuating Germany. The Soviets are advancing, and the bitter winter is in its peak; the ship is the last resort, but it’s ill-fated.

So far, this book has been everything a YA historical fiction book should be; splitting the book into chapters for each character flows well, and enough time is devoted to every character. This is a book filled with hardships and the cold reality of war, so for anyone wishing for a sunny walk-through-the-rose-garden kind of book, this isn’t it. One of the most important things it does do, though, is bring to light the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff, which was a very real ship indeed. I’ll let you Google that in attempt to keep from spoiling the book, but I think it’s already been implied that the outlook is grim.

So far I’m in love with this book. Since reading The Bloodletter’s Daughter (not a YA book, but an excellent historical fiction book if you’re looking), I haven’t been exposed to a historical fiction novel that has pulled me in and had me on edge; this does.

There will be a part 2 to this review (probably in my next IMWAYR post), so I’ll let you know my final thoughts on this one. Smooth sailing so far, everyone (get it? because it’s a sea book?)

Excuse my bad puns until next week.

Chips and YALSA

Okay, dudes. It seems like every week I’m learning about the existence of cooler and cooler resources available for us, and I get more and more encouraged about YA lit every week. How cool is it to be able to feel like that?! I’ll answer you; it’s pretty cool. Pretty cool indeed.

Just when I think I’ve found that YA glass ceiling where things can’t get any more rad, it does.  This is where YALSA and The Hub come in. I’m particularly fond of the acronym YALSA, because it sounds like literary salsa, and I think that’s neat. Why is YALSA and The Hub so cool, you may ask? Allow me.

If you’re looking for any kind of booklist, award, or area of interest, YALSA and The Hub have you covered. Think you know all of the awards out there for YA books? Think again. Book awards I had no conception of can be found here, including awards such as the Odyssey Award for best children’s or YA audiobook and the Morris Award, which awards outstanding first time authors in YA lit. YALSA gives you information on current and past winners, the committees involved in awarding said winners, and even where authors can submit to become a potential winner. One of my personal favorites is the Teen Book Finder App, which finds books based on selected lists or interests, including books given certain awards.

The Hub is one of YALSA’s blogs, and boy is it packed with every list imaginable for every interest or need imaginable. It’s like Belle’s library, but in book blog form.

Me scrolling through YALSA and The Hub

A sample of some of the lists available include books featuring outer space themes, books where a character is more than their illness, and even a list of books that are retellings of classic fairy tales. You’ll find books you weren’t even looking for but have to read on this blog, which can supremely benefit both you and your student readers in finding something worthy of their attention. Personally, I’ve added The Memory Book and Goldie Vance to my lists, both of which I’d never have found if not for The Hub. Win.

If you’re looking for that miracle resource, or if you’re simply wondering what to read next, check out these sites. You’ll learn a good bit of information, and I’m sure you’ll come out of it with something new to read.

Until next time, readers.

Featured Image CC Food Network
GIF CC Giphy

It’s Monday! What are You Reading?: Read Between the Lines

Today, I’m proud of myself.

I started out with a big ol’ heap ‘a books two weeks ago. Normal, right? Yes, but not always do I get through that big ol’ heap before I have to return them. Today is different! I finished this heap, and I found a good mix of what I liked and what I didn’t even know I liked in it. As usual, I grabbed an assortment of books without reading the descriptions, because surprise. I call it the Schneider Variety Pack. My boyfriend was with me this time, and I assigned him with finding one book. Read Between the Lines was what he chose, because “the cover has a smiley face on it”. He’s a man of depth, that man of mine.

Read Between the Lines is interesting because it’s one of those books that holds many stories in one. We start with Nathan, the school punching bag with an abusive father and a crappy home life. During PE, Nathan breaks his middle finger, which is proudly displayed for all to see. He finds empowerment in it and soon others are laughing with him, not at him. We see a variety of characters all tied together and from different walks of life, like the popular cheerleaders Grace and Claire and the timid Ms. Lindsey. We get a glimpse into their lives and see that, like usual, nothing is as it seems. A powerful resolution from Ms. Lindsey ends the book, and it’s a treat to read up to the very end.

Books like these always pack a certain punch. It puts things into perspective that we really don’t know what’s going on with others, even if we think we have them labeled and placed into all the right categories. If you like getting attached to characters, I wouldn’t go for this one–each character gets around a chapter and then kaput, they’re out. However, because each is linked, it’s interesting finding the points of intersection. Another fun aspect? Flipping people off is constant in this book. Either someone is doing or receiving the bird, which I liked. It’s naughty and it’s funny, and I’ve got the sense of humor of an eleven year old boy, so that’s that.

Though its characters are from one singular place and the events happen in one singular day, this novel feels like much more. It did drag at some points, but the ending is worth it. I’d recommend it any day, so try it out if you feel up to it! And if you don’t, go and get a bag of brownie brittle and turn on Netflix to Grace and Frankie or whatever you prefer. I promise I won’t tell.