Tuesday, March 26, 2013

DUALED by Elise Chapman

Author: Elsie Chapman
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Release Date: Febrary 26, 2013
Number of Pages: 304
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at NCTE
You or your Alt? Only one will survive.

The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

Elsie Chapman's suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better.

First Thought: So much suspense! Could not stop reading until I found out how it would end.

DUALED was an intense, kill or be killed, fight to the finish. I had to keep turning pages to know what was going to happen with West and which Alt would survive the final confrontation. The basis of this world where each is born with an Alt and gets "activated" sometime between 10 and 20, and then has only 30 days to hunt down and kill the Alt, or be killed, or both be destroyed after the time ends lends itself to a ticking clock of suspense in the background driving the momentum of the whole story.

In a world full of killers and surrounded by guns, are you the hunted or the hunter, or both at the same time? Which one will be smarter, stronger, or just luckier in the end? When 50% of the population must be killed off, can you ever feel safe with your family and friends, or know that they'll stay around? All of these drive the plot of this story in this dystopic future, which I want to know even more about.

We're given glimpses into the world, and how it came to be, and what might be outside, and what led to them being there, and who might be against the way they live...which makes me so glad there is a sequel coming in 2014 so we can find out what happens next. Although I figured I knew how the story would have to end, that didn't stop my heart from pounding, my gasping out loud, or my yelling at the characters to stay safe and smart and not give up. I enjoyed spending this time with West and Chord, and although it was frightening at times, it was a well-developed world that was created down to the tiniest details of how things operate for idles vs. actives vs. completes.

Final Thoughts: So glad there's going to be a sequel to this "HUNGER GAMES to the nth degree meets...something" world of this story.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Celebrating a Culture of Literacy Displays

I'm in a new school this year. One that I love and in which I'm fortunate to have a beautiful building with K-8 students. One of the things I have really worked on this year is spreading and sharing my love of reading by creating a culture of literacy throughout the school and sharing my reading life with students beyond the walls of my classroom. I have used several ways of trying to celebrate literacy in my little corner of the building, some of which have extended beyond just the middle school area. I've shared several of these in brief snippets on twitter, and have been thrilled to hear from other teachers who have been inspired to do similar things, so in the interest of having a thorough explanation in one place for other teachers/librarians to reference (and the prodding of Sarah), I decided to write this post to share what I've done.

Currently Reading Signs
I honestly don't remember where I first saw this idea, though I'm sure it was a Nerdy Book Club friend, but I made the sign and put it outside my door early in the year. Shortly afterward, my principal asked if she could have a sign on my door also. Then it spread to the other middle school teachers. Of course to the librarian, her aide, and the reading specialist. And then to some elementary teachers downstairs. Now even to other educational aides throughout the building.  It is difficult for a student to walk through our building without seeing what adults are reading, and it's so important for them to see that adults are readers as well.
Unexpected benefit? My students see my reading pace and notice how often I'm completing a book, showing how I prioritize making time for reading in my life in and out of school.

Because I wanted students to also have a voice in sharing what they are currently reading, I made signs for each of them to keep updated as well. This is located right outside their locker bays and in a high traffic hallway that all students in the building pass through on their way to specials classes.
Unexpected benefit? It allows a quick at-a-glance assessment for me of what students are reading and how often they're finishing books every time I walk by.

Books Read This Year Display
Early in the year when I was doing goal setting with students, I set my personal goal to read more books than I read last year. I read 68 novels last school year, and as I quickly realized, I was on pace to read quite a few more this year. In addition, this is the first year I've done the 40 Book Challenge (adapted from Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer). I wanted a way to celebrate the reading I was doing this year, while also encouraging students to keep going with their challenge, and having a way to share the books I've read with students. Thus the Books I've Read This Year door (which morphed to the window next to my door so it could be seen at all times). It was pretty easy as I just use the book cover image from goodreads and put them four to a page in a Word document with two columns. As soon as it went up, I had students commenting on it and asking about certain books. It's been a great way for me to keep track of and tally the novels I've read this year, which is something I'm asking my students to do with the challenge, and I try to always do anything I'm asking them to do.
This is from a few weeks ago. I'm now up to 82 novels!
Unexpected benefit? The ability to have a visual to reference when students or staff are asking me about any of the books I've read. As I've come to realize, reading such a higher volume of books than in the past leads me to sometimes want the visual to help remember them all.  

*Notes: The reason I say novels is because I consider picture books to be real books, but wasn't including them in my tally for the book challenge purposes, and I didn't want to diminish the importance or value of picture books for my students. Also, I'm tallying for the school year because that's what my students are doing. I have a separate calendar year tally via goodreads. Finally, I added the line "How many have you read?" because it was important for me to try to put the focus back on the students and how it could apply to them.

When I shared this one on twitter, and was encouraged to post it on Pinterest as well, I had a great response from other teachers who were doing their own versions of these Books Read Displays. I'm so glad that something I did on a whim has led to students across the country encountering a similar celebration and sharing of reading in their own classrooms. It has been so fun to see the tweets from teachers who have done their own doors/posters/hall displays. Through the discussions, some enhancement ideas: indicating not only read alouds, but also rereads, audiobooks, novellas, etc. Also, using star stickers to put on each cover to show what I thought of each book.

Other versions from some twitter teacher friends:

Sarah Krajewski
Sarah Andersen who then created Literacy Lockers
Mary Thomas

So that's what I've been working on this year. It's been a lot of fun and inspiring for me. If anything clicks with you, I'd love to see your iterations of any of these ideas!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I'm Over on Nerdy Today

You can find me on the Nerdy Book Club blog today!
I'm guest posting to talk Retro Books and share Student Reviews.
Please come visit me there. 
And while you're there...take a look around. After all, you're all members of the Nerdy Book Club. 
The first requirement is that you have to read. And that's it. There's nothing beyond that required. However, if you'd like to share your reading life in anyway, they're always looking for more Nerdy members to post on the blog.

Just look for this link on the right

Monday, March 11, 2013


Author: J.V. Kade
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers (a Penguin imprint)
Release Date: March 21, 2013
Number of Pages: 368
Source of Book: ARC from author
Twelve-year-old Trout St. Kroix has been searching for his missing father for the last two years, after his dad disappeared while fighting in the Bot Wars. The Bot Wars began after robots became so advanced that they revolted and demanded more workers' rights, causing the government to declare all robots terrorists and ban them from the Districts. Trout never questioned anything the government told him--even when his own nanny bot was banished--until a vid he posts about his missing dad goes viral and new information pops up. At first Trout is wrenched his dad might be alive, but when his brother disappears, Trout learns nothing is what it seems . . . not even his own father.

Percy Jackson meets Transformers in this heart-stopping, futuristic adventure that will make you question everything you know--and look at robots in a whole new light
I've already shown this to two of my middle school boys in class, and had them read the summary to see what they thought, and they both said they would read the book because it sounds good to them.

BOT WARS by J.V. Kade (who also writes YA as Jennifer Rush-ALTERED) is an intriguing sci-fi look into the future. The robots are advanced, as is the American society, but is it really all as it seems? In true dystopic fashion, the main character finds out maybe he doesn't know as much as he thought he did, and maybe there are some people out there fighting against the government that created a "better" world. There are intriguing allegories that can be made about slavery/working class and how those groups are treated.

In BOT WARS, Kade has created an exciting book full of non-stop action that has a bit of a rescue/heist feeling to it. It is an enjoyable, suspenseful read. It's full of fun characters - both human and robot - who are very entertaining. But what really makes the heart of this book are the family ties that make it an even stronger book than just the story of the robots vs. humans. Beyond all of the fighting and political aspects, it's about a young boy searching for the father he has been missing for two years, and his inability to give up hope that he's out there somewhere just waiting to be found and reunited with him. A boy needs his dad, and a dad needs his son...but how can they each keep each other safe in a world of robots? This is an action-packed, cleverly imagined middle grade book with strong boy appeal. Hand this off to those who want futuristic books, those who love science-fiction, and those who would like reading a book about a boy who won't give up hope.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Student Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth

I'm a huge dystopian fan, and an even bigger DIVERGENT fan, so when I knew that one of my 8th grade boys, who is a huge reader, had not yet read it, I knew I needed to recommend it to him and his group to read together. I'm so glad he liked it! This is definitely one of those books that hooks teen readers in my experience.

Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (a HarperCollins imprint)
Release Date:  May 3, 2011
Number of Pages: 487
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

I recently read one of my favorite books of all time, which is Divergent by Veronica Roth. Divergent is a dystopian romance novel. I rate Divergent five out of five stars. I rate it five out of five stars because there are so many twists, turns, and secrets in this book. I recommend this book to people who love a good action adventure book. I love this book, I love every single thing about it. As I said before there are so many major plot twists from beginning to end. This book deserves many awards and honors. This book is so good all of the parts are my favorite. I recommend reading the sequel to Divergent, Insurgent, to everybody who loves this book.